NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 11, 2004

Seniors, the uninsured and others who pay for prescriptions out of pocket are looking for ways to cope with rising drug costs. While many seniors can lower their drug bills by using the new Medicare discount drug cards and the new subsidies for low income retirees, every patient interested in saving money on drug therapy should consider a common-sense solution: smart shopping, says medical researcher Devon Herrick.

Patients can cut costs substantially by becoming aggressive consumers. In fact, seniors can reduce the cost of some common drug therapies by more than 90 percent if they use the same buying techniques they routinely use when shopping for other goods and services, explains Herrick.

Some other ways consumers can save money when shopping for drugs include:

  • Drug substitution: When physicians prescribe drugs, patients should ask if there are cheaper alternatives; often there are.
  • Generic medications: For most patients, generic medications work as well as brand-name drugs and cost 20 percent to 80 percent less; the average cost for a generic prescription was $14.70 in 2002, compared to $77.02 for branded medications.
  • Price comparisons: One survey found that prudent shopping among local pharmacies saved consumers almost 10 percent on brand-name drugs and a whopping 81 percent on generics, on the average.
  • Over-the-counter drugs: Americans buy more than five billion over-the-counter (OTC) drug products each year -- 60 percent of all drugs used; today, consumers have access to a market with more than 100,000 different OTC drug products.
  • Bulk buying: Pills purchased 90 or 100 at a time usually sell for less per dose than quantities bought 30 at a time; this is especially true for generic drugs ordered by mail.

Seniors can use these shopping techniques to achieve even greater savings from their prescription drug discount cards, says Herrick.

Source: Devon Herrick, "Shopping for Drugs: 2004," Policy Report No. 270, National Center for Policy Analysis, October 2004.

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