"For many chronic medical problems, treatment should start with lifestyle changes," says Edward Jardini, MD, the author of How to Save on Prescription Drugs: 20 Cost-Saving Methods and a family physician at a private practice in Templeton, Calif., where he was formerly the chair of the Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee and chief of family practice. One of Dr. Jardini's patients, Ernesto (not his real name) was 49 when he developed diabetes in 1999. Instead of going on drugs, Ernesto decided to try losing weight first. He dropped 10 pounds in three months, and was down to 232 pounds. Even that small weight loss stabilized his blood-sugar levels, and his diabetes has been undetectableand he has been drug-freeever since.
2. Can I try the least expensive option first?
“If you're starting a new treatment, why not start with the most economic medication rather than a brand-new drug?" says Dr. Jardini. Ask your doctor, "Are there any generics or similar medicines or ones in the same class that are less expensive that I can try first?"
3. Will I be able to afford this long-term?
Think long-term, especially if you will be taking multiple medications. "It's really important for patients to be proactive and ask their doctor if there are cheaper alternatives," says Derjung Mimi Tarn, MD, PhD, assistant professor of family medicine at the School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. It might not occur to your doctor to bring up your pocketbook. In a 2006 study, Dr. Tarn found that physicians prescribing new medications brought up cost and acquisition issues with patients in only 33% of cases.
One study at the University of Chicago Medical Center found that patients who had received samples had significantly higher prescription costs than patients who didn't. That's because samples will always be the newest and most expensive brand-name drugs, and after the free samples run out, you are more likely to continue buying that brand. You may be better off getting a prescription for a cheaper generic, if possible.
If you already have a prescription, it's not too late to consult your pharmacist. "Talk to your pharmacist and we can go through the medication list," says Janet Engle, Pharm.D., head of the department of pharmacy practice at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy and past president of the American Pharmacists Association. "Are there other options you can recommend to your doctor?"