4 Ways to Lower Medicare Part D Drug Costs

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In many cases — though not all, admittedly — you can reduce the costs of prescription drugs through Medicare Part D without assistance from Extra Help or your state. Here are four practical ways to save money (that may also serve to stretch your Part D drug coverage so that it lasts longer), starting with one that may surprise you.

Take a hard look at your meds

Think about all the medications you take. Do you really need them all? It’s a question well worth asking because many people are being overprescribed without realizing it. In a health system where you can see many different doctors with little or no coordination among them, taking more meds than you need is quite easy. Your primary care physician may prescribe two or three drugs, and various specialists may prescribe more.

This drug review isn’t just a matter of cost. Some drug combinations can work against each other in complex and subtle ways that harm your health. Sometimes you may develop new symptoms that are actually side effects of one of the drugs you’re already taking. But without realizing that, you go back to your primary care doctor who often, yes, prescribes more pills.

Don’t think that you need to stop any drugs or lose faith in your doctor. Far from it. But make sure that all your meds are necessary and safe when used together. If some aren’t, cutting back can save you money and protect your health.

Put all the meds you’re taking — not just prescription drugs but also over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbal remedies, and supplements — into a bag, take it to your doctor or a pharmacist, and ask for a review.

Ask specifically about each med: Do I still need it? Is it safe to take with others I’m taking? Is it appropriate for people my age? Keeping a list of your drugs and their dosages in your wallet is also a good idea so you can show it to any doctor who prescribes a new medicine for you.

Switch to less-expensive drugs

One way to lower expenses dramatically is to switch to less-expensive drugs that work equally well for your medical conditions if you have that option. The newest brand-name drugs — often the ones that doctors like to prescribe — are almost always the most expensive. Sometimes hugely expensive.

But a fancy new drug may have an alternative version that’s just as good but much less pricey: either a generic or an older brand-name (a drug that may be less convenient than a new one — for example, it may require you to take two or three pills per day rather than one — but still does exactly the same job medically).

Changing to a lower-cost drug means that you stretch your Part D coverage in two ways:

  • It reduces the total cost of your drugs in the initial coverage period so that you stave off the doughnut hole or avoid it altogether.

  • Part D plans usually charge much lower co-pays for generics — in some cases nothing at all — and for older drugs. So if you have this option, it’s win-win.

Ask your doctor whether a generic or older drug would work just as well for you as the brand-name one you’re taking.

Switch to a less expensive Part D drug plan

The vast majority of people in Part D could save a lot of money if they’d choose another drug plan, studies show. That’s mainly because co-pays vary enormously among different plans, even for the same drug. Carefully compare the plans available to you according to the specific drugs you take, every year.

Find free or low-cost prescription drugs

Sometimes, even with Part D coverage, some prescribed drugs are just not affordable, especially if you go into the coverage gap. Even if you’re not yet in the gap, you may not be able to afford the co-pays — usually a percentage of the price — that plans charge for the most expensive drugs, such as those used for organ transplants and some cancers. What then?

  • Supplies from the manufacturers: Some drug makers’ patient assistance programs offer free or reduced-cost supplies of their brand-name products to people in Part D in some circumstances (such as being in the coverage gap). For details, go to Partnership for Prescription Assistance website.

  • Certified charities and patient organizations: You may be able to get help from one of these sources, which usually specialize in one specific medical condition. To find out, go to BenefitsCheckUp.

  • Low-cost drugs from abroad: If you obtain drugs from abroad by mail order, you must be careful. The Internet is Wild West territory, full of scams for the unwary. So you need to pick a licensed pharmacy with a reputation for good, ethical service.

    One safeguard is to use pharmacies that are prescreened by bona fide organizations or that earn professional accreditation.

  • Free samples from your doctor: Most doctors receive drug samples from the manufacturers to pass on to patients, so don’t be shy to ask.

  • Pharmacy discounts: Many pharmacies sell selected drugs at very low cost — often $4 per prescription. Drug manufacturers also offer similar prices with discount cards used through pharmacies. Most of these services can’t be used if you’re in a government program, such as Part D. But pharmacies do often offer other discounts — inside and outside Part D plans — that may be worth using.

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