Prescription Drugs at Bargain Prices: With a Little Effort, You Can Cut the Cost of Your Medications without Compromising Your Health

Newsweek, April 23, 2001 | Go to article overview

Prescription Drugs at Bargain Prices: With a Little Effort, You Can Cut the Cost of Your Medications without Compromising Your Health


Marilyn Taylor had a secret weapon in her personal drug war. Faced with huge bills and the loss of insurance, the 62-year-old Manchester, Maine, woman simply quit most of the medications she needed for her asthma, arthritis, depression and high blood pressure. When she fessed up to her physician, Daniel Pierce, he found a clever way to solve her dilemma. He switched some of her prescriptions to cheaper generics. Then he loaded her up with free samples of the brand-name products and helped her join a drug company's prescription-assistance program.

Pierce has helped many patients cut their bills that way, and he has yet to harm anyone's health. These measures are stopgaps, not solutions, to the drug-cost problem. But the truth is, almost anyone can safely reduce her medication bill. All it takes is a willingness to ask questions.

Until recently, state pharmacy-assistance programs were aimed almost exclusively at the neediest Americans. Many still are. But lawmakers have discovered that you don't have to be destitute to be hobbled by high drug costs. In Massachusetts, for example, moderate-income seniors with high out-of-pocket drug expenses are now eligible for a state-subsidized insurance program. Premiums, deductibles and co-payments are on a sliding scale, based on income, with verification required. Once an enrollee's deductible has been met, the program foots the bill for all prescription drugs. To find out what your state is doing to help out, contact the AARP or your department of health.

The drug companies themselves are another source of relief. More than 50 of them sponsor prescription-assistance programs. Eligibility requirements vary by company, but most firms will lend a hand to anyone lacking insurance. Assistance comes in the form of free or steeply discounted medications. Application is generally through your physician. For a list of participating companies and eligibility criteria, contact the Washington, D.C.-based Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (phrma.org) or the Health Care Financing Administration, which lists both public and private programs (medicare.gov).

Assistance isn't the only way to reduce your drug costs. "Lots of Americans think if something's cheaper, it can't possibly work as well," says Dr. Joseph Raduazzo of Brockton Hospital in Massachusetts. But when you buy generic brands, cheaper can be just as good--despite what the direct-to-consumer drug ads would have us believe. For example, you could pay up to $180 for a month's supply (10mg, twice daily) of Vasotec, a brandname treatment for hypertension and congestive heart failure. …

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