NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Lowering the Cost of Prescription Drugs

July 22, 2003

Seniors can significantly lower their costs for these prescription drugs using prudent shopping techniques highlighted in the recent NCPA study "Shopping for Drugs." In fact, the cost of some drug therapies can be reduced by 75 percent to 90 percent using buying techniques consumers normally use to shop for other goods.

  • Patients can often purchase medications in doses double the prescribed amount and split them in half; for example, seniors can save an average of 39 percent on about half of the 50 most common drugs they use by pill splitting.
  • Self-medication with over-the-counter drugs (OTC) is the most frequent way patients treat health conditions; for instance, Claritin, the 48th most commonly used drug by seniors in 2002, costs about $283 per 100 tablets if purchased by prescription, but only $28.23 per 100 tablets if purchased OTC at Wal-Mart -- a savings of 90 percent.
  • Seniors can frequently save by comparing prices on the Internet and through purchasing larger sizes; by combining these techniques for branded medications, shoppers can save an average of 12 percent (for generics, the average savings is 52 percent).
  • Many drugs have therapeutic substitutes that are far cheaper; for example, seniors opting for generic Metoprolol tartrate (50mg) in quantity instead of Toprol XL would save 81 percent.

Seniors can realize significant savings on about 43 of the top 50 most often used drugs. Thirty-five of these are higher-priced brand drugs. There are already generic equivalents for some of these drugs and there will be many more within a few years. A few prescription drugs will even become available OTC.

Source: Devon M. Herrick, "Lower Drug Costs for Seniors," Brief Analysis No. 448, July 22, 2003, National Center for Policy Analysis.

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