Doctors Don’t Know Everything

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I went to the doctor the other day. Even retired doctors have to go to other doctors sometimes.

Whenever they ask me what pharmacy I want a prescription sent to, I tell them I don’t have one because I shop around for the best prices, and that I need a paper script.

The doctor wrote a script, so I looked it up on www.GoodRX.com.

To use the website, there is no sign-in, no personal information, no membership and no fee.  Just type in the drug name, put in the form (pill, capsule, tablet, cream, solution, etc) and the dosage (mg, gm, mcg, ml, etc) and your zip code.

 

Immediately, it tells you the prices at a lot of the pharmacies in your local area (such as Walgreens, CVS, Rite-Aid, Safeway, Wal-Mart).

The lowest price for my prescription was $740.00!!

 

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I don’t have drug coverage with my insurance. No way was I going to pay that price!

So, I looked up alternative drugs in the same category, and found one that only cost $70.00. I marched back into the doctor’s office and spoke to the nurse (and the doctor who just happened to be passing by)– they were both shocked at the price and happily changed the script to the cheaper alternative.

Why are drug prices so different, even for the exact same item between different pharmacies?  Health insurance companies have departments that negotiate for drug pricing on their formularies (a list of medications they will cover for their members).  These ‘Discount Prescription’ cards and apps do the same thing, only you are not tied to the insurance company’s formulary, so you might have more options for medications.

Some electronic medical records your doctor uses have downloaded specific drug formularies covered by your insurance company.  But it’s not a perfect system.  As a surgeon, there was no way I could keep up with all the insurance formularies, but I always told my patients, “When you get to the pharmacy, if the price of the drug I prescribed is too much, have them call my office and we’ll discuss alternatives.”

Sometimes, there is only one drug in a category that will work for your specific condition.  Or serious drug allergies preclude other options. And that one drug may be expensive.

In that case, you might be able to get help directly from the drug manufacturer to cover all or part of the cost.  Most drug company websites have an option for financial assistance.  Look into it.

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Although there’s no such thing as a money tree, drug companies may be able to help with the cost. [clipartpanda.com]

But most often, there is probably a cheaper alternative.  If your overworked doctor won’t work with you on keeping prescription costs down or gets snippy when you ask for more economical choices (especially if you ask nicely and give them time to fix things), then consider changing providers.

 

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We’re all in this together.

Takeaways:

1.  Do NOT assume your favorite pharmacy is the best place to go with your scripts because it feels comfortable and they treat you well. There can be a huge difference in price between getting a drug at Safeway, Wal-Mart, CVS or some other place.  Wal-Mart offers a 90 day supply of some meds for only $10! Think about it;  would you be willing to pay $900 for a plain white shirt at Neiman-Marcus when the same one, or a close facsimile, can be found at a discount store for $25?  Just because you like the sales lady?  Remember: she doesn’t get one dime of the money you pay for the shirt.  Just her salary.  The same thing goes with pharmacists.

2.  Take a paper script with you from the office and look it up on http://www.GoodRx.com– it doesn’t cost you anything and there are no memberships or log-ins involved. Then, you print out or show the coupon code on your phone to the pharmacist and they accept it. Verify the price before they fill the script, though.

3.  Doctors don’t have the time to find out what drugs cost, and usually (but not always) there is more than one drug they could prescribe for you for the same medical condition.

4.  If it’s available for the particular drug, ask for the generic version (also known as ‘may allow substitution’ on the script), as it can sometimes save you a lot of money.  There is usually no difference in formulation between brand name and generic.  As an example, go to your local pharmacy and look on the allergy shelves at the price for brand name Claritin (an allergy med) and generic Loratadine.  Or brand Flonase (nasal steroid spray) and generic Fluticasone.  Or Prilosec (stomach acid med) and Omeprazole.  Same drugs, different prices.  Get used to looking at the ‘Active Ingredients’ on the label.  If it’s the same name, it’s the same drug. Only cheaper.  Store brands are usually cheapest.

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A drug by any other generic name… will act the same [clipart-library.com]

5.  It’s YOUR money! Even if you have health insurance, please don’t be a blind consumer– the global economy cannot support the rampant over-cost of drugs and healthcare.
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6.  If you get to the pharmacy and ask about the drug price, and it is too expensive, have the pharmacy call the doctor’s office to prescribe something else.  Be kind to your pharmacist– they have absolutely no control over drug pricing.
7.  In a lot of instances, the cost of drugs in the United States far exceeds the cost paid by other people in distant countries for the exact same drug from the exact same manufacturer.  Hence people who medication shop in other countries across our borders (but be very careful if you are considering this:  have you ever seen high-end knock off purses, watches and shoes at hawker’s tables in big cities?  Imagine what some people will do to fake a drug tablet to look like the real thing– and you might have no way of knowing the difference).
We subsidize the world with the prices we pay at our local pharmacies.

 

8.  On a future post, I’ll give you some ‘doctor insider’ ways on how to research possible alternative prescription drugs to discuss with your provider.

9.  GoodRX:  I’m not a stock holder in the website, but it improves my personal portfolio when I don’t spend as much on medications!

Compare prescription drug prices and find coupons at more than 60,000 US pharmacies. Save up to 80% instantly!
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Be a wise consumer of healthcare [printablee.com}

– Wendy
Retired Otorhinolaryngologist, Head & Neck Surgeon
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4 thoughts on “Doctors Don’t Know Everything

  1. Great post and very insightful information. Another tip is that you DON’T need to be a Costco member to use their pharmacy and their prices are usually fantastic (especially compared to some of the chain pharmacies).

    Like

  2. Several times I’ve witnessed pharmacists get really bent out of shape when they see what the non-insurance cost will be. It’s a racket and I think the only people who DO like it is the drug companies themselves!

    Thanks for all the great info. GoodRX has been an excellent source.

    Oh, another option: international pharmacies, like https://www.affordabledrugs.com/ where you can get the same medication for a fraction of the price from another country. It helps a lot when you are stuck with one of those outrageously expensive with no alternative drugs.

    Like

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