Skyrocketing prescription drug prices sit squarely at the center of policy debates about the US health care system.
Pharmacists can help patients save money on their prescriptions each time they approach the pharmacy counter.
Skyrocketing prescription drug prices sit squarely at the center of policy debates about the US health care system. Even generic medications are becoming unaffordable.
According to drug pricing research firm Truveris, the overall cost of all generics increased by 5% in 2014, though more extreme surges were seen when the data was broken down by therapeutic area. Medical conditions that saw the largest increases in generic drug prices included muscle pain and stiffness (31.9%), inflammation (31.7%), heart disease (23.7%), acne (18.1%), and infections (11.8%).
Although pharmacists may not be able to alter drug market dynamics for the sake of reducing prescription costs, they do have several tools at their disposal to help patients save as much money as possible.
Start with the following 5 steps:
1. Offer to process the prescription without going through insurance.
This may seem counterintuitive, but a recent Consumer Reports analysis revealed that many retail pharmacy chains and big-box stores offer common generics at prices as low as $4 for a 30-day supply and $10 for a 90-day supply for patients willing to pay out of pocket. Of note, the ability to obtain these discounts varies based on the type of medication and condition being treated.
One caveat pharmacists should let patients know is that if they choose to circumvent their insurance plan, the money spent toward that prescription will not count toward their deductible. It is also important to make sure patients are aware that they may not be eligible for discount programs if they receive coverage through Medicare, Medicaid, or Tricare.
2. Perform a medication review.
When patients receive multiple medications from several different prescribers, there are greater odds that at least 1 of those medications is inappropriate. This can lead to polypharmacy, for which older patients and those with multiple comorbid conditions are most at-risk.
While polypharmacy has obvious patient health pitfalls, pharmacists should also highlight how discontinuing an unnecessary medication can help patients reduce their overall prescription drug costs.
To do this, pharmacists should identify all the medications that a patient is taking by obtaining an accurate medication and medical history. Then, the pharmacist can link each prescribed medication to a disease state and initiate interventions with the patient’s prescriber to discontinue medications deemed inappropriate.
3. Encourage patients to fill 90-day prescriptions.
Patients with chronic conditions that necessitate long-term use of a medication may be able to save money buy filling a 90-day prescription instead of the standard 30-day prescription.
When using insurance, patients filling a 90-day prescription will only have 1 co-pay, as opposed to 3 co-pays for the same amount of medication. They would also only have to make 1 trip to the pharmacy every 3 months.
4. Encourage patients to substitute brand-name drugs with the generic, if available.
Recent estimates show that 88% of prescriptions dispensed in the United States are for generic drugs, but prescribers are under no obligation to prescribe the generic version if the patient doesn’t ask them to do so.
When patients are paying for prescriptions out of pocket, they may want to check online resources such as GoodRx to find the “fair price” for generics versus brand-name versions and compare them with the pharmacy’s listed prices.
5. When appropriate, advise the patient to safely split pills.
Pill splitting is a common strategy used by patients looking to save money amid rising drug costs, but 8% of those patients admit to splitting pills without receiving approval from a pharmacist or physician.
Certain drugs for certain conditions—including high cholesterol medications like lovastatin (Mevacor) and rosuvastatin (Crestor), as well as depression medications like sertraline (Zoloft)—can be split without reducing their efficacy or causing negative side effects. However, other medications such as oxycodone (Oxycontin), omeprazole (Prilosec), chemotherapy drugs, and contraceptives should never be split.
Pharmacists should take the time to explain which medications can be split safely and accurately.