Many of you have experienced the sticker shock of filling a prescription, especially if you don’t have prescription insurance. Unlike the price of most goods and services in a free market economy, which are kept in check by competition and other free market forces, the price of medications has been skyrocketing because of the lack of these controls. So where most goods sell for twice their wholesale cost and four times their cost of production, medications are often priced at 64,000% the cost of their production!
Moreover, the price of the exact same pill can vary by over 1,000% from one drugstore to another. And adding insult to injury, if you don't have health insurance you often pay 5 to 10 times what an insurance company would pay, as they pay a negotiated lower rate.
So if you don’t have insurance, and even if you do, you may walk out of the drugstore feeling, well, financially wiped. Unless you know these tricks!
1. Compare Prices at Different Pharmacies
For example the medication Ambien, which is often needed to help people with CFS and fibromyalgia sleep, sells for about $4 per 10 mg tablet. If you need 90 tablets and your insurance company won’t pay for it, it'll cost you about $360. So say you decide to get the generic instead. For that exact same tablet, the price will vary from 9 cents per pill at Costco, to over $3 a pill at many other pharmacies. This is the case for many medications. So with a simple phone call, you could discover you can pay $8 for three months of Ambien instead of $270.
In general, you’ll find the best prices at Costco, with Walmart having a number of common medications that they price very low, while they charge very high amounts for others. So call and ask. Another helpful tip is that you don’t have to be a Costco member to use the pharmacy. When they ask for your Costco card at the entrance, simply tell them you’re going to the pharmacy, and they'll waive you right in.
2. Use GoodRx
A wonderful tool is the free app called GoodRx or you can go to GoodRx.com. Type in the medication name, strength, and quantity, and they'll give you the negotiated price they have obtained for the pharmacies near you (you only need to print a coupon). Very often, I've found this to give a 90% discount over what you'd pay otherwise. And it'll save you a bunch of phone calls. This app and website are outstanding!
3. Get a Pill Cutter
An important thing to know is that for most medications, including compounded medications, you pay by the pill, not by the spill strength. For example, Viagra sells for over $50 per 100 mg pill. But it costs almost exactly that same amount for a 25 mg or 50 mg tablet. So if you’re using 50 mg tablets, you can save half your money by simply buying 100 mg tablets and cutting them in half. This is the case for almost all medications. So a simple $7 pill cutter can save you thousands of dollars!
4. Use Generics
In the vast majority of cases, the generic medication is exactly the same as the expensive brand-name version. When I get medications, I buy the generic. Some people will find, though, that the brand name works better. A simple approach is to just buy the first months' worth of the medication as the brand name, and then get the generic for refills. This way, in the rare event that they are not working the same for you, you'll know.
5. Explore Alternative Meds That Do the Same Thing
Medication patents are supposed to expire after 20 years, at which time the medication can go generic. But some medications are so profitable that drug companies either pay the generic companies not to make the generic, or they'll file expensive legal action against companies that try to make a generic. For example, Viagra is over 20 years old, yet it still isn't available as a generic. But here's the secret. Although not available in generic for erectile dysfunction, it's available as a 20 mg generic for pulmonary hypertension. So ask your doctor to write for Sildenafil 20 mg instead of Viagra. These will cost 60 cents a pill using the GoodRx App or website . So even if you need 5 of them to get the 100 mg dose, you'll pay $3 instead of $50!
6. Use Compounding Pharamacies
For many medications, market manipulations by the pharmaceutical industry have resulted in raising the prices of even generics far more than they should relative to the cost of producing the pill. So for some medications like these, here is another trick. See if your compounding pharmacy is able to make that medication and what it would cost for them to make it.
For example, fluconazole (Diflucan) 200 mg used to sell for about $30 for 50 tablets. It now sells for over $300 at most pharmacies, even for the generic. Using the GoodRx app will bring it down to $103. But if a compounding pharmacy makes it, you can often get it for under $30. The only trick is that to legally be able to make it, the doctor has to order it with some subtle difference in how it’s made so that it's technically different from what you could find in the drugstore. So your doctor can order a 210 mg tablet, or have a capsule made with low allergen components.
You may recall a recent news story about the one pharmaceutical company trying to gouge the public by charging obscene prices for an old antiparasitic. But what you didn’t hear about was that compounding pharmacies were making the same pill for less than a dollar apiece. So where you would pay $500 a month for a daily supply of 50 mg testosterone cream from a pharmaceutical company, you could get the same thing from a compounding pharmacy for only $15-$30 a month. Simple!
7. Use a Holistic Practitioner
Often the best option is to work with a holistic practitioner to find natural alternatives, which are commonly more effective, generally much lower price, and almost always much safer.
8. Remember to Reduce Your Dose as Able
As you feel better, remember to ask the doctor if you can lower the dose or stop the medication. Doctors are often too busy to think about this unless you remind them.
Follow any or all of these 8 tips and I guarantee you'll slash the price of your medications!
Love and blessings,
Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D. is one of the world's leading integrative medical authorities on fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. He is the lead author of four research studies on their treatments, and has published numerous health & wellness books, including the bestseller on fibromyalgia From Fatigued to Fantastic! and The Fatigue and Fibromyalgia Solution. Dr. Teitelbaum is one of the most frequently quoted fibromyalgia experts in the world and appears often as a guest on news and talk shows nationwide including Good Morning America, The Dr. Oz Show, Oprah & Friends, CNN, and Fox News Health.