Controlling Health Care Costs: Your Prescription Medications

I was a patient recently for an eye problem, and I received a prescription for a small bottle (5cc or one teaspoon) of antibiotics. The cost was over $100 or about $8\drop! I hear from patients that the cost of medications, even if they use co-pays, is prohibitive. This article will discuss how to decrease the cost of prescribed medications.

Begin by reviewing all of your medications with your physicians at each visit. Ask about the indication for each medication and that there is proof that the medication is working and is required to continue using. If the drug is not producing any benefit, ask your doctor for a trial discontinuation.

There are certain instances when a generic drug can be used instead of the more expensive brand name drugs. Generic drugs are often 90% cheaper than brand name counterparts.

I suggest that patients refuse to accept samples from the doctor. Why? These samples are almost always the expensive brand name drugs. Once the patient starts using the free samples, they will be compelled to go to the pharmacy and purchase the far more expensive medication.

If you have a prescription, it is a good idea to call several pharmacies and ask the price of the medications. There is frequently a tremendous variation in price from different pharmacies. You will often find there are considerable savings by using the low-cost pharmacy in your area.

Pill splitting is another method for reducing drug costs. For example, if you are prescribed a 40 mg tablet for controlling your cholesterol level, ask the doctor for a prescription of the 80mg tablet and buy an inexpensive pill splitter and save 50% of the cost of your medication.

A generic drug is usually an off-patent “copy” of a brand name drug. The active ingredient or drug content is identical or “bioequivalent” and works in the body the same way as the brand name drug. Such drugs must show that their active ingredients get to the bloodstream at the same time and to the same extent as the brand name version.

Generics include the quality of the product, how it’s absorbed in the body, safety, dose strength, the way it is administered such as taken orally, injection, or a patch placed on the skin and also the Federal Drug Administration or FDA-approved use.

Drug companies must prove to the FDA that the generic drug is either identical or otherwise bioequivalent to the brand drug, meaning they have the same quality, strength, purity and stability. A generic drug must have the same active ingredient as the brand name drug.

To gain FDA approval, a generic drug must:
• contain the same active ingredient(s) as the brand drug (inactive ingredients such as fillers and dyes may vary)
• be identical in strength, dosage form and route of administration
• have the same use indications
• be bioequivalent
• meet the same batch requirements for identity, strength, purity and quality
• be manufactured under the same strict standards of FDA’s good manufacturing practice regulations required for brand products

Unfortunately, not every brand drug has a generic version. Most brand drugs are developed under patent protection for up to 20 years. This means that no one else is allowed to make and sell the drug. When the patent expires, other drug companies can begin selling a generic version of the drug.

To find out if there is a generic equivalent for your brand drug, ask your doctor or pharmacist. You can also check out this site: http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cder/daf/

Pharmacy assistant programs are available for patients who are able to demonstrate a need for financial assistance. The only requirement is to apply and you may need to demonstrate a verification of income or assets, but most often, they will accept the word of the patient. Once a patient is approved for these programs, the medications are free. You can find out about these programs from www.pharma.org.

Bottom Line: There are several options for reducing the cost of your medications. First, always speak to your doctor or pharmacist to see if a generic drug is right for you.

Dr. Neil Baum is a physician at Touro Infirmary and can be reached at 504.891.8454 or you can follow
Dr. Baum on FaceBook, (http://www.facebook.com/dr.neil.baum) Twitter and his blog site at http://neilbaum.wordpress.com/

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