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Saving Money on Prescription Drugs Not Covered by a Medicare Part D Plan

By , Caring.com Expert
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Quick summary

Most of us are painfully aware of the sky-high cost of prescription drugs. The person you're caring for may be one of the many people 65 and over who have enrolled in a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan to offset those costs. But most Part D drug plans don't cover any drug costs during the program's "doughnut hole" -- when the patient's total drug expenses for the year reach $2,700 (in 2009) but his out-of-pocket costs for the year haven't yet reached $4,350. Or he might not be enrolled in a Part D drug plan. In either case, you'll want to find ways to save money on out-of-pocket prescription drug costs. A number of sources for discounted prescription drugs are described here.

Could the person I'm caring for switch to a generic prescription drug?

He may be taking a brand-name prescription drug that has a generic equivalent. In virtually all cases, there's no difference whatsoever in the active ingredients between generic and brand-name drugs. If a generic is available, it usually costs far less than the brand name. He can check with his doctor or pharmacist to see whether a generic is available. The pharmacist can also tell him how much he would save by switching. If he has any doubts about whether the generic would work as well for him as the brand-name drug, he can ask his doctor.

Is there an equivalent prescription drug a patient could take?

Different companies within the pharmaceutical industry often produce virtually identical drugs under different brand names. One may be significantly cheaper than another. If a patient is taking a brand-name drug that has no generic equivalent, he can ask his doctor whether another company sells a nearly identical drug under a different name, then ask his pharmacist whether it's less expensive.

If there's no cheaper brand-name prescription drug with the same active ingredients, the doctor may know of a somewhat different drug also used to treat the same illness or condition. It may have come on the market after the person in your care began taking the other drug. Or maybe his doctor prescribed the other drug out of habit without considering an alternative. He can ask his pharmacist whether there's a significantly cheaper option to the drug he is taking. If so, he can check with his doctor whether it's a good idea to try it. He should ask whether the new drug is likely to be as effective as the one he's currently taking and what side effects it may have.

Are free sample of drugs available from his doctor?

Pharmaceutical companies constantly give doctors loads of free samples of the medications they sell. The reason is simple: They want the doctor to think of their prescription drugs when he's writing prescriptions. But they also want him to give away the samples to patients in the hope that the drug will be effective and the patient will continue to use it.

Doctors often give away a free drug sample to a patient who only needs one dose. Before the person in your care fills an expensive prescription, he should ask if his doctor has any samples. Doctors also frequently give a sample to a patient who's trying out a prescription drug for the first time. But there's no reason a doctor can't give away a number of free samples to the same patient. If a patient is without prescription drug coverage for a period of time -- for example, when he's within the Medicare Part D "doughnut hole" -- he may want to ask whether his doctor could provide him with samples to tide him over until his coverage kicks in again.