Dear Savvy Senior,
I’ve heard that there are prescription medication discount programs out there to help those in need? I’m 63 years old and currently take three drugs that I can barely afford. What can you tell me? —Barely Insured
There are actually a wide variety of programs that help uninsured and underinsured Americans dramatically reduce their medication costs — or even get them for free. Many programs can also help seniors with a Medicare prescription drug plan avoid their "doughnut hole" coverage gap, or reduce their costs once they reach it. Here’s what you should know.
Drug Assistance Programs
Through pharmaceutical companies, government agencies and charitable organizations, there are literally hundreds of programs available today that provide low-cost or free drugs to people in need. Although most drug assistance programs have income requirements, don’t assume you won’t be accepted because you think your income is too high. Many programs will consider applications on a case-by-case basis. Here are some great resources for finding and navigating the many programs that are available.
Partnership for Prescription Assistance (www.pparx.org; 888-477-2669): This is a network of pharmaceutical companies and professional medical organizations that can match you to more than 475 public and private patient/drug assistance programs that offer more than 2,500 drugs at reduced cost or at no charge.
RX Assist (www.rxassist.org): Created by Volunteers in Health Care, RX Assist allows you to search a database of patient-assistance programs by medications. It also provides tip sheets on getting free or low-cost medications, information on copay, generic drugs and other types of assistance programs.
NeedyMeds (www.needymeds.org): This is a non-profit resource that will let you search for drug-assistance programs, download applications and find assistance based on disease. It also provides links to state sponsored programs that provide prescription drug coverage or subsidies to low-income people who aren’t poor enough to qualify for Medicaid.
Another way to cut your medication costs is with drug discount cards, and a good starting point is Together Rx Access (www.togetherrxaccess.com; 800-444-4106). Backed by a consortium of pharmaceutical companies, this free prescription savings program provides a 25 to 40 percent savings on more than 300 brand-name and generic drugs. This program is available to people who don’t have drug coverage with annual incomes of $45,000 or less for individuals, $60,000 for a family of two, and up to $105,000 for a family of five. Other drug card programs you should look at include www.rxsavingsplus.com, www.yourrxcard.com, www.rxfreecard.com, www.pscard.com, www.familywize.com and www.freedrugcard.us. These are all free programs with no eligibility requirements.
Another big money saver is to ask your doctor or pharmacist if the medication you’re taking is available in generic form. Many chains like Wal-Mart, Target, Costco, Kmart, CVS, Walgreens and Safeway offer great deals on many generic drugs. Wal-Mart for example charges only $4 for a 30-day supply and $10 for a 90-day supply with no eligibility restrictions. You can also find great generic deals online at sites like Rx Outreach (www.rxoutreach.com; 800-769-3880) and Xubex Pharmaceutical (www.xubex.com; 866-699-8239).
For Medicare beneficiaries, if your annual income is less than $16,245 for an individual ($21,855 for a married couple living together) in 2009, you may be eligible for some extra help in paying for your medication. Call Social Security at 800-772-1213 to see if you qualify.
Savvy Tip: If you find that you’re not eligible for the drug-discount programs and generics aren’t available, another way you can save money is by finding the pharmacies that offer the lowest prices. Go to www.destinationrx.com and register — it’s free. Then type in the medicine you’re looking for and click on "Compare Pharmacy Prices" for a cost comparison of online, mail-order and local pharmacies.