Save cash on medicine

April 17, 2009 10:56:02 AM PDT
As money gets tight, families and seniors are sometimes dropping costly prescription medicines. But doctors warn not to stop taking your medicine. There are ways to continue getting the medicines you need, while spending less to do it.

"This case contains the $10,000 a year medication," said Joan Eden.

That's just one of Joan's prescription medicines. She also takes pills to stop headaches and tremors caused by a concussion. But she cut back from three to two pills a day because of their expense. That's when her headaches got worse.

"It's also increased the tremors I have in my hands," she said.

"The physician or pharmacist, if you cannot afford your medications, let them know," said Dr. Christie Ballantyne with Baylor College of Medicine. "Review this, come up with a new plan."

Dr. Ballantyne says a doctor can review your drugs to see where something cheaper could be substituted. And if one generic alone won't work...

"It's possible that two inexpensive generics, sometimes in a combination pill, could control your blood pressure," said Dr. Ballantyne.

Many expensive brand name drugs cost the same for the high and low dose. Doctors say ask for the higher dose and cut them in half.

"I've got some patients who cut pills in fourths," said Dr. Ballantyne.

Ballantyne said a higher dose pill would help Joan's tremors and headaches.

"Cut that in half," he said. "You'd be on your same dose, 25 milligrams three times a day, but it would cost you half as much."

"I never thought about doing the 50 milligrams," Joan said.

Now pharmacists caution there are two types of drugs you cannot split. An enteric-coated medicine, which is coated to protect your stomach. If you split it, it's no longer protective. And a sustained or delayed release drug. If you split this drug, you don't get the long-acting effects."

And that $10,000 drug Joan is taking, she got it free this year by simply asking the manufacturer for help.

"Otherwise, I would not have been able to afford the drug at all," she said.

How do you do what Joan did? Your pharmacist can give you the manufacturer of your medication. From there, Joan went online to the pharmaceutical company's homepage and filled out an application for patient assistance. Some require income tax forms and financial information. Others require a letter from your doctor. Even if you get a discount or it's free, as in her case, be prepared to reapply for it next year.

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Christi Myers is ABC13's Healthcheck reporter

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