Filling a Prescription? Some Tips for Saving Money

Spotlight On Health Benefits

Volume C, No. 9September, 2000

The cost of prescription drugs is rising sharply, far outpacing inflation. This has resulted in some health insurance plans either dropping the benefits or sharply curtailing them. And concern over costs is fueling the debate in Congress over whether to add a drug benefit to Medicare.

Local 802’s Health Benefits Plan is not exempt from these economic pressures. Therefore, it may be beneficial to participants in the plan to do what they can, as consumers, to save money for themselves and the plan. This could make it possible to keep our prescription drug coverage intact, without making major cuts in benefits or significantly increasing costs to the participants. And if you are not covered by the benefit and must pay for your own prescription drugs, these suggestions may be especially helpful

The most immediate way to reduce costs is to encourage your doctors to prescribe generic versions of the drugs you need. Many people are put off by the word “generic” because they do not really understand what it means. A generic medication is a therapeutically equivalent version of a brand-name medication. It has been in use long enough that its patent has expired. Therefore, any licensed pharmaceutical company can manufacture that chemical mixture and market it. This results in competition, which drives the price down.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved and monitored almost 9,000 generic drugs since 1970. According to the FDA mandate, any generic drug must follow the same strict guidelines and inspections for quality, effectiveness and safety that are required for the brand-name medications. The package may look different but the active ingredient is there in the same dosage and strength as the brand-name counterpart.

Once people become aware of the savings that can be gained by using these therapeutically equivalent versions of their medications, they are often happy to do so. But the savings are not available if you have a prescription for a new drug, which is still covered by patent and therefore has no generic equivalent. These newer drugs are huge money makers for the pharmaceutical companies, which have been running major ad campaigns in every medium (including advertising in the subways) to promote them directly to consumers.

People will often ask their doctors to prescribe a particular medicine they’ve seen advertised, and physicians will comply. But before opting for one of the newest drugs, it is worth asking your doctor whether an older prescription drug, which does essentially the same thing – and has a generic version – is available. You will find that this is often the case.

Future editions of Allegro will include more information on how to save money for yourself and your health plan on medications and services, and help put a stop to the steeply rising cost of health care.