Ways to save money on prescription drugs

Call Christina team helps identify ways to save money, compare prices

By Christina Vazquez - Reporter

Several viewers contacted the Call Christina team asking for help on how to save money on prescription drugs.

As lawmakers debate the issue of rising drug costs, private companies are stepping in to address the issue.

From free programs to an app that lets you compare prices, the Call Christina team is answering your call for help.

FREE MEDICATION PROGRAM

Florida-based Publix offers a free medication program.

"If you can go to the doctor but you can't afford your medication, that's a big issue," Publix pharmacist Anthony Alonso said. "We are the other half to your health care. First you have to go to see a physician to get a prescription or be seen by your doctor. Then the other half is actually access. So if the other half isn't there for you, there's a big gap in therapy."

Some of the most commonly prescribed drugs for infections, diabetes and blood pressure are free at the Publix pharmacy as long as you have a doctor's prescription.
 
"As long as a prescription is valid, it's good for a whole year in the state of Florida," Alonso said.
 
GENERIC DRUGS

Drug costs represent the fastest growing part of the nation's health care budget.

The issue the focus of a congressional hearing last month with some lawmakers claiming the Food and Drug Administration isn't working fast enough to approve generic drugs.

A spokeswoman for the FDA said that, since October 2012, "the backlog included 2,866 abbreviated new drug applications (generic drug applications. To date, FDA has completed first actions on 84 percent of ANDAs."

While the FDA maintains it is ahead of schedule in achieving the goal to reduce the backlog and eventually eliminating it, Tampa-based CEO Suren Ajjarapu of TrxAde Group believes more should be done to clear the FDA's approval backlog of thousands of generic drugs applications.

"Getting the generic prescription approval from the FDA is taking a long, long time," he said. "They need to see if the FDA can approve more generic drugs so that way the cost benefit is passed onto the consumer."

His company has created a sort of eBay for pharmaceutical drugs targeted to independent pharmacies as a way to drive down costs.

"If I'm acquiring that drug at a lower cost, I'm going to pass that to the consumer," he said. "Even though our business is BtoB (business to business), at the end game the consumers are going to get these drugs at a cheaper price."

According to Consumer Reports, shopping at an independent pharmacy ranked No. 2 on a list of six smart strategies for drug-cost savings.

Industry experts said there are several reasons why a drug could jump in price, from a product shortage to a change in insurance coverage. The key is to shop around.

"One pharmacy might have bought the drug for $10," Ajjarapu said. "If you drive another five miles, another pharmacy might have bought it for $20 or $30."

New York-based Blink Health is saving you the drive, recently launching a new app and website that allow you to quickly find low prices and save money at more than 60,000 pharmacies nationwide.

You can even order the medication online and pick it up at a local pharmacy. 

PATIENT ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS

Some pharmaceutical companies offer patient assistance programs to help people who can't afford their medicine.

Check out medicare.gov/pharmaceutical-assistance-program and RxAssist.org to see if your drug is part of one of those programs. 

OUT OF POCKET

Consumer Reports recommends GoodRX.com for paying out of pocket. You can compare prices and review savings tips.

Consumer Reports said you can use the website to learn the "'fair price' and use that to negotiate if a pharmacist quotes you a higher price. You can also fill a prescription with an online pharmacy. The one we shopped, HealthWarehouse.com, had the lowest prices overall. Just be careful about the one you choose. Only use an online retailer that clearly operates within the U.S. and displays the 'VIPPS' symbol to show that it's a verified Internet pharmacy practice site. Most sites that bill themselves as 'Canadian' are actually fake storefronts selling low-quality or counterfeit products. Internet pharmacies based in other countries that advertise heavily discounted medications are almost never legitimate, according to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, a nonprofit organization that accredits pharmacy websites. Once you've verified that a retailer is legit, read terms carefully. For example, HealthWarehouse.com ships to all 50 states; others may not. And you'll have to wait for shipping."

RED FLAGS OF ONLINE PRESCRIPTION FRAUD

While you search websites looking for the best deal, make sure to be on the lookout for online prescription fraud.

Here are some red flags identified by the Mayo Clinic:

-          Ads selling drugs at rates much lower than those at your local pharmacy

-          Ads that say no prescriptions required

-          Ads for drugs that are not approved by the FDA

-          Websites with only foreign contact information

-          Websites that don't provide a phone number or street address

-          Unsealed or altered packaging

-          No delivery at all, and unauthorized charges to your credit card

You also want to make sure the seller is properly licensed.

 Fake online pharmacies can manipulate their websites to appear legitimate, so checking the pharmacy's license through your state board of pharmacy (or equivalent state agency) is an important step to know whether you are using a safe and legal online pharmacy," the FDA said on its website.

Click here to check the legitimacy of an online pharmacy.

Whether you fill your prescription at a local pharmacy or online, make sure you get just what the doctor ordered by checking the following:

-          Is your name printed correctly on the medication label?

-          Is the name of the medication correct?

-          Does the dosage match the prescription?

-          Is the packaging intact?

-          Is the expiration date clearly listed?

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