Your Healthcare Guide

5 Money-Saving Questions to Ask Your Doctor

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?"

Generics are copies of brand-name drugs that contain identical active ingredients and work the same way in the body. Theyre less expensive because the manufacturers of generic drugs, unlike brand-name makers, do not have to invest money in research, development, and marketing. And because generics are available only for drugs whose patent has run out, the competition in the marketplace among manufacturers drives the price down. For example, ninety 10-mg tablets of generic simvastatin, a drug used to lower cholesterol, sell for around $90, while the same amount of Zocor, the brand-name version, costs about $400. (These are approximate market prices, not insurance co-pays, and prices might vary on a prescription drug plan.)

Older drugs, which will usually be generic versions, are often as effective as newer ones for certain conditions but are usually a lot less expensive. For instance, one of the newer drugs to treat diabetes is Actos, which costs about $1,000 for a 90-day treatment of the lowest starting dose (15 mg). The generic version costs $561. And while Actos or its generic version both help to stabilize blood sugar, so do other diabetes drugs, according to Dr. Jardini. Metformin, an older treatment, is only about $35 for 90 days of the lowest starting dose (500 mg), and a study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology showed it had almost identical blood-sugar control as Actos. Plus, Actos has actually been associated with a higher risk of heart failure, Dr. Jardini adds.

A third option is to ask your doctor if theres a less expensive drug in the same class. Beta-blockers, for example, are used to treat hypertension. At some drug stores, the price for a three-month supply of the lowest starting dose (5 mg) of bisoprolol fumarate is about $140, while another beta-blocker, atenolol, costs only around $20 for the lowest starting dose (25 mg)..

Next Page: Will I be able to afford this long-term?

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