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Save on prescription drug costs

June 6, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Many doctors say the most heart-breaking part of practicing medicine during hard economic times is when patients say they can't afford life-saving medication.To keep his blood pressure and cholesterol in check, 73-year-old Alan Pinchuk takes four different drugs including Lipitor and Zetia. He also tries to eat right and exercise to keep his levels under control, but what's hard to control is the cost.

Click in the Eyewitness News story window above to watch Denise Dador's report.

"It is extremely expensive," said Pinchuk.

"Just the co-pays alone can be let's say $10 or $20 per prescription," said Dr. Mason Weiss, a cardiologist.

To save money, he enrolled in his Blue Cross prescription drug mail order plan. Most insurance companies offer one. He receives 90 days worth of medication at a time so he only shells out a co-pay four times a year instead of each month.

He says it saves him a lot of money.

"I can save anywhere from 50 to 70 percent," said Pinchuk.

Mail ordering drugs is a good way to save money. But experts say cutting out the personal interaction between a pharmacist and the patient could lead to serious health issues.

"There is a lot of personal interactions that the pharmacists needs to really know the patient in order to make the best recommendation," said Dr. Chow.

Dr. Sheryl Chow, a pharmacy professor at Western University, says dangerous drug interactions are very common, especially among the elderly. Getting all your prescriptions filled in one place can prevent that. And while insurance companies offer pharmacists by phone it may not always be the answer.

"They may not take the initiative to pick up that phone and call the mail order pharmacist," said Dr. Chow.

So if you do go to a pharmacy, know prescription prices vary. Large chain stores like Target and Walmart offer deep discounts on certain drugs.

We called around to different pharmacies and compared the cash price price for three popular drugs: Amoxicillin, Lipitor, which has no generic, and the generic of Zoloft, Sertraline. This may not be the price with insurance.

Cholesterol drug Lipitor priced out at about $89 at Target, Walmart and CVS, while Rite Aid came in at $104.

The antidepressant Sertraline cost $27.50 at both Target and Walmart, CVS was a little more at $32, and Rite Aid was $70.

Lastly, the antibiotic Amoxicillin cost $5 at Target and $9 at Walmart, $11 at CVS, and $15 dollars at Rite Aid.

Another way people try to cut costs is pill splitting.

Dr. Mason Weiss says patients even ask him sometimes to prescribe higher dose versions of their medications.

"And then they actually split the medication on their own as a way of saving money," said Dr. Weiss.

But if drugs are an extended or sustained release formula, they shouldn't be split. One rule of thumb is if a pill is scored then it usually can be split.

Using generic's can cut cost, but Dr. Chow says not all generics are as effective as the brand names.

"It's always a good idea to cut costs but this should be done without sacrificing safety and efficacy," said Dr. Chow.

Saving money is not worth putting his health in jeopardy. So Alan says he always consults his doctor and calls a pharmacist if he has questions.

"I have not found any negatives on it at all," said Pinchuk.

We asked Rite Aid why their prices were much higher. A spokeswoman said the three drugs we chose to profile appear to be an extraordinary case and the company plans to look into it.

She says Rite Aid has a long standing price matching policy that you can ask your pharmacist about.

 

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