The new year is traditionally a time to think about ways to improve your health. As you resolve to exercise more, eat a healthier diet, and get more sleep, you might also think about making changes in your medication regimen. There are several things you can do to ensure you take your pills reliably or even save money on prescriptions. Here are three resolutions to get you started.
- Schedule a comprehensive medication review
Set up a consultation with your pharmacist (which is usually free) or call your doctor's office to see if your clinician can review your medications at your next checkup. This includes both prescription medicines as well as over-the-counter supplements and remedies. Do any of the medications have dangerous interactions with each other? Are they causing side effects (such as unusual fatigue, aching muscles, depression)? Are all of your medicines still necessary?
For example: "You may be taking a prescription drug for osteoporosis that was only intended for a few years, but you've been taking it for seven years. Or maybe you're taking so many supplements that it's hard for you to manage the rest of your medicines," says Joanne Doyle Petrongolo, a pharmacist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.
- Look for ways to save money on medications
Getting rid of unnecessary pills is just one way you can reduce medication costs. Another is learning about the prescription drug provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act (signed by President Biden in August 2022). Starting this year (2023), the rules cap the cost of insulin (for diabetes) to $35 per month for people on Medicare, and make all vaccines (such as the shingles vaccine) free to people with Medicare Part D. By 2025, out-of-pocket spending on prescription drugs will be capped at $2,000 per year (down from more than $7,000) for people with Medicare Part D.
Here are other strategies to save money on prescription medications.
Talk to your doctor about drug costs. When your doctor is writing a prescription, explain that you'd like the least expensive option possible, such as a generic versus a brand-name drug.
Cut certain pills in half. Ask your doctor if it's possible to prescribe a pill that's twice the dose of your usual one, so you can cut it in two. Typically, the larger pills cost only a little more, but the prescription lasts twice as long, so you'll wind up saving money. This only works for certain medications, such as tablets, that can be split easily and aren't time-release formulations. For example, you could split many versions of atenolol, used to treat high blood pressure and other conditions.
Request a 90-day supply. That way you'll make just one copay for a three-month supply, which may be cheaper than making three copays for three 30-day supplies.
Don't always get the entire prescription filled. "There are certain times when you might not want to buy the full 90-pill prescription--like if you're trying out a new drug and you want to wait to see if it causes side effects before you pay for the whole supply. Talk to the pharmacist to see if a smaller quantity may be appropriate," Doyle Petrongolo suggests.
Apply for a drug manufacturer's patient assistance program. Some pharmaceutical companies such as Eli Lilly (www.lillycares.com) and Pfizer (www.pfizerrxpathways.com) provide free medications to people who meet certain income requirements.
Use a mail-order pharmacy. "It may be cheaper. For some generic medications, like levothyroxine for thyroid disease or atorvastatin to treat high cholesterol, the price may be zero dollars for a 90-day supply versus $9 at the local pharmacy," Doyle Petrongolo says.
Use a prescription price finder. Type the name of the medication you need into an online price finder, and you'll find out where your drug retails for the lowest cost.
These programs are often provided for free in apps such as GoodRx (www.goodrx.com), and by state governments, such as those in Florida (www.myfloridarx.com) and in Michigan (www.michigandrugprices.com).
Use coupons or drug discount cards. GoodRx and the nonprofit group NeedyMeds (www.needymeds.org) are popular for connecting people to deals.
- Get organized
The new year is also a good time to review the way you take medications. Would a device keep you more organized and on track? Maybe you need a pillbox (perhaps one with an alarm); an automatic dispenser that releases the pills you need, when you need them; or a medication manager app for your smartphone that can remind you when to take each pill, and help you track when you take them. Your pharmacist can tell you about these devices. You can also ask your pharmacist about receiving your medications in presorted "pill packets" that bundle doses of several medications together, at no extra charge. All you need to remember is to take all the pills in the packet at a certain time of day. "If anything can help you do a better job at taking your pills, you'll wind up feeling better. That would be a great accomplishment," Doyle Petrongolo says.
This article was originally published by Harvard Health Letter.