$418 billion. That’s the estimate of how much we overspent in the US last year in pharmacy-related spending, according to a report by Express Scripts out last month. Part of that unnecessary spending is overpaying for prescriptions; part is extra medical costs associated with not taking medicines as prescribed.
The good news is that you can cut your own costs and prevent future issues by avoiding the three most common costly pharmacy mistakes:
1. Taking a brand name drug when there’s a generic available. Generic drugs that have been approved by the FDA are the same as the brand in dose, strength, quality, how you take them, and how safe they are. There can still be differences in inactive ingredients, so a personal preference for a drug from one brand or generic manufacturer may affect your decision, but there are a few things to keep in mind:
Insurance companies will often refuse to cover a brand name drug if there is a generic available. This could mean the difference between a $10 copay and hundreds out of pocket. If you don’t have prescription insurance, you’ll feel the whole difference yourself. Even newly released generics with no competition will rarely save you less than 10% compared to the brand, and prices tend to drop over time. You can also find hundreds of generics through pharmacy discount programs for $5 or under per month.
2. Not shopping around for the best price. It might seem obvious, but this is the second biggest category of spending waste. Your best bet in many cases? Using mail order and buying 90-day supplies at one time.
If your prescription and your finances allow it, a 90-day supply or more will almost always save you in the long run. If you order through your insurance, it might even cost the same as a 30-day supply at your local pharmacy. Whether you’re insured or not, mail order can be less expensive, and many brick and mortar pharmacies offer mail order services. As an added bonus, having your prescriptions delivered has been shown to be good for adherence—that means you’ll be more likely to keep taking the medicines you need, and have them available before you run out.
3. Not taking medications as prescribed, or stopping treatment without talking to your doctor. This was the number one category of unnecessary spending, for a couple of reasons. Part of the problem is paying for drugs that you don’t use or that don’t fulfill their purpose, but the big deal is the consequence of not sticking to a prescribed treatment.
If you quit taking an antibiotic as soon as you feel better, for example, it hasn’t finished working and you may need more, stronger antibiotics to take care of the infection later. If you quit your cholesterol or blood pressure med, you could end up with hospital bills and other medical expenses if a heart condition develops or worsens.
For more information and details, you can find a summary of the report here.