Many people with Medicare find that they are paying a hefty amount for their drugs, even with prescription drug coverage. Drug companies have considerable power to set high prices for many drugs; insurers have little power to rein them in. Instead, insurers shift costs onto members who need high-cost drugs. That helps explain why government drug price negotiation remains a top policy issue in polls of likely voters. For now, there are ways to keep your drug costs down.
Whether you are enrolled in a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan or a Medicare HMO or other private Medicare plan, copays or coinsurance for some drugs can be extremely high. Here are some options to save you money.
- Review the drugs you are taking with your doctor: Your primary care doctor might be able to shorten the list of drugs you’re taking and, in the process, save you money. If you’re taking high-cost brand-name drugs, your primary care doctor might also be able to prescribe you lower-cost generic drugs. Generics must have the same active ingredients, same strength and purity and same effect.
- Ask your Part D drug plan or private Medicare plan about reducing your copay: If your drug is in the highest tier—requiring a very high copay–the plan might reduce the copay if your doctor can demonstrate that you have no other drug alternative for your condition that safely meets your needs.
- Extra Help: If you qualify for Extra Help, a program administered by Medicaid, it will pay for some or all of the cost of your drug coverage. The amount of help with cost-sharing depends on the level of your income and assets. In 2019, you may qualify if you have up to $18,735 in yearly income ($25,365 for a married couple) and up to $14,390 in assets ($28,720 for a married couple). With Extra Help your drug costs are no more than $3.40 for each generic/$8.50 for each brand-name covered drug. And, depending upon your income, you may pay only part of your Medicare drug plan premiums and deductibles. You get Extra Help automatically if you have Medicaid or a Medicare Savings Program. You can apply for Extra Help online here.
- Find out if you qualify for a State Pharmaceutical Assistance Program: In some states, state pharmaceutical assistance programs provide help with the cost of drugs. Visit Medicare.gov or contact your State Health Insurance Program to find out about drug benefits your state provides. You can also call 1-800-677-1116 or visit www.eldercare.gov.
- Drug company assistance programs: Some drug companies offer eligible individuals reduced prices for their drugs. Contact the Partnership for Prescription Assistance or NeedyMeds to find out if you qualify for help with your drug costs.
- Online pharmacies: You can often find significantly lower-priced drugs through online pharmacies. And, increasingly, people are using international online pharmacies to keep their costs down. Kaiser Health News reports that 19 million people in the U.S.–eight percent of Americans–now buy their drugs outside the US to afford them. But, you must be careful you are using a legitimate pharmacy and not an outfit selling counterfeit or expired drugs. Also, it is technically illegal to import drugs from abroad, although it appears that no one has been prosecuted for doing so for personal use. Here’s what to consider.
Keep in mind: If you are a Vet, you likely can get low-cost drugs through the Veterans’ Administration.
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