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Finding lower-cost prescriptions

Created date

November 5th, 2018

Health care can be one of the largest expenses in retirement, so it pays to cut costs (without reducing the quality of your care) wherever possible. One area where you may be able to shave off a few bucks is prescription drugs.

Medicare’s prescription drug program, known as Part D, is changing as a result of provisions in the Affordable Care Act and the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018. The so-called donut hole that leaves a gap in prescription drug coverage for Medicare enrollees is gradually closing. The gap will close for brand-name drugs in 2019 and for generic drugs in 2020.

These changes may help ease some of the financial burden on retirees who need prescription drugs, but people with chronic illnesses or those who need to take several expensive drugs could still incur significant out-of-pocket expenses.

The upper limit on the donut hole will be $5,100 in 2019, meaning that you become eligible for catastrophic coverage once you or your Part D plan have spent that amount on out-of-pocket drug costs. What’s more, prescription drug prices continue to rise: A 2017 Wall Street Journal found that the median out-of-pocket cost for a drug purchased through a Medicare Part D plan was $117 in 2015, as compared to $79 in 2011. So, even if the percentage you’re on the hook for goes down, drug price hikes mean you may still pay more out of pocket.

How to find less expensive prescriptions

Fortunately, there are a few ways you can reduce the amount you pay for prescription drugs.

Adria Gross, founder of insurance advocacy organization MedWise (medicalinsuranceadvocacy
.com), says to start by talking to your doctor, who may be able to offer a more affordable alternative medication or assist you with getting discounts on prescriptions. Gross also recommends contacting pharmaceutical companies directly, as most have some sort of medication discount program.

“Check with your state or county to see what might be free or discounted through the state,” Gross also recommends.

Joseph Sanginiti, CEO of FamilyWize (familywize.org), a company that issues prescription drug discount cards, says your pharmacist can also be a resource when it comes to getting the best prices on prescription drugs.

“Always talk to your pharmacist. They can be your best friend and care about your health,” he says. “Don’t be afraid to tell them if you find a better price at different pharmacy. They should be willing to work with you.”

To compare prices at different local pharmacies, the FamilyWize app has a Drug Price Lookup Tool. GoodRx.com and PharmacyChecker.com are two other popular sites that provide drug cost comparisons.

Jennifer McDermott, consumer advocate for personal finance at comparison website Finder
.com, says retirees may find lower prices at Costco’s pharmacy, which you can use even if you don’t have a membership to the store. She also recommends looking into generic versions of expensive brand-name drugs.

“Most prescription drugs actually have a generic version that is the same composition but without a brand or name,” she says. “Always ask your pharmacist if there is a generic version available. Many will also offer specials on grouped supplies—for example, one month compared to three months.”

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