It's no secret that prices on prescription medications continue to rise. According to CBS News, some 3,400 drugs saw higher prices through the first half of 2019. That represents a 17% increase compared to 2018. Moreover, the average price increase is five times the rate of inflation at more than 10%.
Lawmakers at the state and federal levels are working on legislative solutions to skyrocketing drug prices. Whether or not viable solutions come to fruition remains to be seen. In the meantime, there are things consumers and employers can do to tackle high prescription drug costs.
Understand Insurance Plan Formularies
Health insurance plans that include prescription drugs also come with built-in formularies that determine how much a patient pays for a prescription. A formulary is nothing more than a grouping of medications in different categories. Drugs in a particular group tend to have similar co-payments.
How does this help? By giving patients an understanding of what different groups of drugs might cost. If a costly drug is recommended, patients can ask about other options. It helps employers by giving them more information that might help them find a better prescription plan.
Asking About Generics
The best weapons in the consumers' arsenal are generic drugs. Asking for a generic should be automatic whenever a patient visits the doctor to get a prescription. Patients can also ask their pharmacists whether or not a generic is appropriate.
Generics cost less because the makers of those drugs have not invested tens of millions of dollars in research and development. Generics are not always appropriate, but they save a ton of money when they are. So never be shy to ask for one. The worst that can happen is that your doctor or pharmacist says 'no'.
Consider Alternative Therapies
Sometimes, the best way to combat high drug prices is to consider alternative therapies. There may be other drug therapies that could be less expensive but equally effective. There might also be non-drug therapies you can try. The fact is that a prescription is not always the only solution.
The one caveat here is to discuss alternative therapies with your doctor or pharmacist. Do not attempt to treat yourself without professional advice. Otherwise, you might make your condition worse.
Search for Financial Assistance Programs
Drug manufacturers and distributors sometimes offer financial assistance programs to people who cannot afford their medications. Likewise for a small number of charitable organizations. If prescription prices are just too high for your budget, do not be afraid to ask for help.
Utilize Prescription Coupons
Yes, you can shop for medication coupons the same way you do for food and personal care items. Drug manufacturers, distributors, and even pharmacies offer coupons on some of the most popular drugs on the market. A quick online search even reveals a number of websites whose controlling organizations partner with drug makers to create promotional codes that get you lower prices.
Ask for the Cash Price
Finally, some pharmacies are known to charge two different rates: one for those covered by health insurance and another for cash buyers. Sometimes the cash price is a bit lower. As such, it is a good idea to ask the cash price whenever filling a prescription. From the employer's perspective, encouraging employees to utilize Health Savings Accounts in order to get a better cash price is a smart idea.
There is no doubt that prescription drug prices are rising. Until there are some regulatory reforms put in place, it is up to consumers to keep their costs as low as possible. When employers can help, they should.