If you’re trying to cut health care costs by saving money on prescription drugs or over the counter medication, you are probably already familiar with such primary cost saving measures as asking for generic drugs instead of brand name drugs, comparison shopping at several pharmacies and splitting higher-dose pills when it is safe to do so.
But Edward Jardini, MD, a practitioner of family medicine at the Twin Cities Hospital in Templeton, Calif., and author of the book “How to Save on Prescription Drugs” (Ten Speed Press, 2008), has come up with several more creative ways to shave dollars off your drug bill each month.
Among his suggestions:
Ignore the date on the drug packaging.
The date on the bottle isn’t, as most people believe, the expiration date. It’s the “beyond use date,” and it’s either a year after the prescription was filled or a year after the expiration date on the original manufacturers container, whichever is sooner. And according to Dr. Jardini, that date is rather arbitrary. He cites a joint study by the Department of Defense and the federal Food and Drug Administration which tested about a thousand different lots of 100 prescription drugs stored in military facilities and found that 84 percent were still stable and potent nearly five years past their expiration dates. Storing medications in a cool, dry place, away from sunlight, can help extend their potency.
The exceptions to this advice, Dr. Jardini says, are liquid medications, which are not as stable as pills, and prescription eye drops, which may be prone to bacterial contamination. In those cases, it’s not a good idea to use them beyond the date on the package.
Avoid treating the side effects of one drug with another.
While it’s sometimes advisable to counter a drug side effect with another prescription, a doctor prescribing potassium to a patient on a diuretic, for instance, it is often smarter, and less expensive, to switch the original medication rather than chase a cascade of symptoms with other remedies. Beta blockers and oral contraceptives may cause depression, for example. Switching the medication, rather than adding an antidepressant drug to the mix may be safer and more cost effective.
ACE inhibitors can sometimes cause a chronic cough that is sometimes mistaken for, and treated as, asthma or acid reflux. Statin drugs may cause erectile dysfunction. If you have a new symptom that started soon after you started taking a new drug, ask your doctor if it could be a side effect that might go away on a different medication.
Treat with lifestyle changes.
Being disciplined with diet and exercise is sometimes the safest, most effective and least expensive way to treat a medical condition. Clinical studies have shown that lifestyle changes were as or even more effective than medication for preventing type 2 diabetes, beating hypertension and lowering cholesterol. For arthritis, exercise has been shown to lower or eliminate the need for analgesic medications.
Donald Miller, chairman of the department of pharmacy practice at North Dakota State University, in Fargo, and a member of Arthritis Today’s Medical Advisory Board adds this suggestion to the list:
In some cases, it may be cheaper to get a prescription.
It may seem counterintuitive to swap an over the counter medication for a prescription, but Miller says that in some cases, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and omeprazole (Prilosec), getting a prescription for the generic is likely to be less expensive than buying the same drug off the shelf. That’s because health insurance plans have minimal co-pays for prescription drugs, but offer no help with over the counter remedies. And even if you don’t have health insurance, at least two chains, Target and Wal-Mart, are offering a 30-day supply of many generics for just $4 and a 90-day supply for $10. “Note that this will vary by drug and by insurance company,” Miller says, “but it’s definitely worth asking your pharmacist about!”