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Top tips on saving money on prescription drugs

May 18, 2012, 8:25 a.m.

Prescription drug costs have been climbing for years. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, between 1990 and 2006, drug costs increased six fold. For the 45 million uninsured Americans, drug costs without insurance can take a big bite out of their finances. Luckily, there are a few strategies that smart consumers can employ to cut down on their prescription drug costs:

Buy generic whenever possible. When a medication's patent expires, other companies are free to make generic versions. The savings when buying generics can be significant: generic medications can cost about 1/4 as much as name brands. By law, generic drugs must have the same chemical composition as their name-brand counterparts, so these medications are just as good as the name brands. Four out of five prescription medications have generic equivalents, so, it is always worth asking if one is available. Typically, it takes about six months after a name brand medication's patent expires for generics to begin showing up on the market.

See if the drug you need is offered free by local retailers. A number of retailers throughout the country now offer certain medications free as a public service. For instance, Florida grocery chain Publix offers free generic antibiotics and blood pressure medicines. In other parts of the country, ShopRite and Meijer prescribe certain antibiotics at no cost, as well.

Research discount prescription cards. Many pharmacies offer free or low cost membership programs. Members of the programs get discounts on needed medicines. Discount cards are also available from some insurers, and even state medical programs, as well. Carefully research the discounts offered to members to ensure that they justify the cost of the card.

See if you qualify for patient assistance programs. Many pharmaceutical companies offer programs that allow low-income patients to get medications free or at a deeply discounted price. Information can be found on the company website or on the clearinghouse site Needmeds.com.

Find out whether it is advisable to buy larger dose pills and split the pills in half. Generally, the higher dose pills are the same price as the lower dose, or only slightly more expensive. For medications that are taken daily, the cost savings can be significant over time. Always use a pill splitter to ensure accurate dosages when splitting a pill in half. Some medications, such as those that are released over a long period of time, should not be split. Be sure to discuss dosage instructions with your doctor or pharmacist.

Ask your doctor whether another, less expensive, medication is appropriate. Often, a doctor's first drug of choice does not have a generic equivalent yet. When this is the case, always ask if there is a less expensive medication that is equally effective. For instance, a federally funded study from 2002 showed that inexpensive diuretic medications are just as effective as newer, more expensive hypertension drugs at lowering blood pressure.

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