Special Report: What you need to do to pay less for your prescription drugs

Special Report: What you need to do to pay less for your prescription drugs

Americans are spending more on prescription drugs than anywhere else in the world; an average of $1200 a person every year, but are you missing ways to save? 

CBS 58 Investigates is looking into how taking more pills could actually save you money because combination drugs can cost significantly more.

Combination drugs contain two or more medications in a single tablet.

“Taking two different tablets at the same time would be just as effective as taking the combination medication,” said Dr. Brian Bergquist, a pharmacist.

But the idea is that instead of taking 2 or three pills, you can just take one.

“The goal is to lesser the pill burden for the patient, thinking that will increase compliance,” Dr. Bergquist said.

But that convenience can come at a cost.

“It generally just comes as a branded medication and those medications can be very expensive, you know two to three times the price,” Dr. Bergquist said.

So how much more expensive are these combination drugs? Dr. Bergquist gave CBS 58 Investigates some examples.

Caduet, a combination blood pressure cholesterol pill, costs $686. The separate generic medications cost about $182. Lotrel, another combo drug used for high blood pressure costs $415 versus $75 for the generic components.  Lastly, Duexis which is Ibuprofen and Famotidine, costs $977 but buying the generic components is only about $30.

“I personally have dealt with members who have, for example, been prescribed eye drops that were over several hundred dollars and if you talked about the individual components, they would’ve been less than $10,” said Leigh Purvis, the director of health services research at AARP.

One study estimates that in 2016 using generics instead of the brand name combo drugs could have saved $925 million. (can we link this article.

“Anyone who has health insurance is paying for prescription drugs, even if they aren’t taking one themselves, it’s something that comes out of your premiums and your cost sharing,” Purvis said. “Your taxes go toward programs like Medicare and Medicaid.”

Dr. Hashim Zaibak, the CEO of Hayat Pharmacies, says there can be some benefits to these combination drugs.

“They’re taking it more regularly on a daily basis,” Dr. Zaibak said. “There’s less skipping, for example and that helps them have a better outcome.”

And better outcomes could lower overall healthcare costs.

“Should we invest in a little bit higher cost on these combination products so that we can prevent hospitalizations?” Dr. Zaibak said. “That’s a debatable thing.”

Dr. Zaibak says it comes down to the individual patient. For example, he says the combo drug cost is can be worth it for someone with dementia who might already forget to take pills.

To make sure you’re getting the best treatment at the lowest cost talk to your pharmacists. They can call your doctor and ask about switching to generic medications.

“I’ll have these conversations with the doctors and they’ll actually say oh I had no idea it was that expensive, I was just doing it out of convenience, but if it’s cheaper, let’s go for that,” Dr. Bergquist said.

You can also check with the drug manufacturer, some have patient assistance programs

If you want to take the separate pills, ask your pharmacist about packaging them together. Hayat pharmacy will organize medications in to individual pouches.

“It will tell them hey you take this Monday morning, this is all the tablets that are in here,” Dr. Zaibak said.

And once a year, take all your pills and vitamins to your pharmacist to make sure you’re not missing out on less expensive option.

Dr. Zaibak says some pharmacists have collaborative practice agreements with doctors, where a doctor will tell a pharmacist hey you have my permission to change medications to cheaper options.  He says this is a newer practice but it’s starting to catch on.

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