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Finding Lower-Priced Prescription Drugs
by Kimberly Calder

No single insurance policy, program, or discount card is likely to include every prescription drug you may need. To find the best prices and services, you should take some time to identify the program or programs that can best meet your needs. Access to the Internet is almost a requirement for this. You may want to ask a family member or friend to help you, especially if your Internet access is in a public library, community center, or Internet café.

Information on...

Patient Assistance Programs

State Pharmaceutical Assistance Programs

Prescription Drug Discount Cards
Buying Drugs Online or Abroad

Start by making a list of all the prescription drugs you (or your loved one) take, with the exact dosage and volume per prescription, and name of the manufactrer. For example: Zoloft, 100 mg per day, 30 tablets, Pfizer Inc. Then look at the prescription drug coverage you currently have. (Skip to the next section if you have none.)

Use your existing benefits and entitlements
If you have some coverage for prescription drugs, make sure you’re making the best use of it to minimize your out-of-pocket burden. Review your health plan manual.

  • Are you following the plan’s rules about choice of pharmacy, the plan’s formulary (list of drugs approved for coverage) or “tiered co-payment” arrangements?
  • Are you using a mail order pharmacy for medications you take regularly over time? Most plans offer savings for this. If you need drugs such as antibiotics or painkillers right away or on a short-term basis, you can get them at a community pharmacy even if you use mail order for your long-term needs.
  • Have you discussed generic alternatives with your doctor?

Are You a Veteran or a Dependent of a Veteran?
Veterans, retired military personnel, and their dependents may be eligible for prescription drug assistance or coverage from the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Health Administration (877-222-8387 or www.va.gov/health_benefits) or TRICARE (www.tricare.osd.mil), the U.S. Department of Defense Military Health System.

Research patient assistance programs
The companies that manufacture pharmaceuticals make limited amounts of their products available to people in need at no or low cost through patient assistance programs. The eligibility criteria, application forms, and procedures for these programs vary, and a separate application may have to be submitted for each prescription. Before you despair, use the Internet to check out the organizations listed below. Their Web sites often include other valuable health-related information.

www.needymeds.com is a nonprofit organization offering an easily searchable database of patient assistance programs run by drug manufacturers and others. It includes their application forms.

www.rarediseases.org is the Web site of the National Organization for Rare Disorders, or NORD. It administers medication assistance programs for uninsured or underinsured individuals with specific rare conditions. MS is one of them.

www.helpingpatients.org is operated by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA. It lists all the patient assistance programs of its members, and helps users determine their eligibility online.

www.benefitscheckup.org provides individuals 55 years of age and older with a confidential personalized report of public and private
programs that can help them save on prescription drugs.

Applications to patient assistance programs are generally free, but a few organizations will handle all the paperwork for you for a small fee. These include the Free Medicine Foundation at www.medicineprogram.com

Can your state pharmaceutical assistance program help?
Thirty-nine states have created or plan to launch some type of program to provide pharmaceutical coverage or assistance, primarily to low-income elderly and/or people with disabilities who do not qualify for Medicaid. The programs offer savings paid for by the state’s government. Two organizations list details of each state’s program: the Medicare Rights Center
(www.medicarerights.org, go to Medicare Basics, Help Paying for Prescription Drugs) and the National Conference of State Legislatures (www.ncsl.org/programs/health/drugaid.htm), which requires a no-cost online registration.

Investigate prescription drug discount cards
Prescription drug discount cards have existed for years, but we have heard more about them lately as certain cards are approved for Medicare beneficiaries as a short-term component of the Medicare Modernization Act. Then go to www.medicare.gov for application specifics. Other drug discount card programs exist. They are membership programs that anyone can join for an annual fee. Typically, discounts are available for members at participating pharmacies only.

Some cards also offer discounts on other health services by participating
providers only. Often marketed using insurance terminology, these programs are not health insurance plans. Some are listed below. The Medicare Rights Center also provides a list on their Web site www.medicarerights.org

Membership fees vary, as do the discount amounts. Be a good consumer by comparing prices, other benefits, and convenience. If the participating pharmacies are not nearby, do they deliver, and for how much?

Affordable Health Card
or 800-214-0611.
A nationwide discount program for member individuals, groups, and seniors. The participating providers include physicians, hospitals, pharmacies, dental and vision specialists, and more.

AmeriPlan USA
www.ameriplanusa.com or 800-647-8421.
Members receive discounts at participating dental, chiropractic, pharmacy, and optical care providers.

Medco Health Solutions
www.yourplan.com or 877-733-6765.
Members receive discounts on brand name and generic drugs at participating pharmacies.

Nations Health
www.nationshealth.com or 800-977-9655.
Members receive discounts at participating pharmacies.

Prescription Benefits, Inc.
www.rxbenefits.com or 800-377-1614
Members receive discounts at participating pharmacies

www.rxdrugcard.com or 888-216-2461
Members receive discounts at participating pharmacies

Together Rx Access Card
www.togetherrxaccess.com or 800-444-4106
Nationwide discount card program restricted to those who meet income guidelines and have no other prescription drug coverage. Discounts on approximately 275 prescription drugs manufactured by ten leading companies, no membership fee.

Should you buy drugs abroad or online?
The practice of going to another country, particularly Canada, to fill a prescription at lower cost (known as “importation” if the drug is manufactured abroad, or “reimportation” if originally manufactured in the United States), has become increasingly popular among people with high prescription drug needs. Even state governments are doing it.

Although the U.S. attorney general has stated that Americans who individually import their medicines from overseas will not be prosecuted, the practice is considered illegal. The FDA warns that it cannot guarantee the safety or effectiveness of any prescription medication that is beyond the reach of its regulatory authority.

The National MS Society urges people who are considering buying their drugs online within the U.S. or abroad to first review the FDA’s information at www.fda.gov/oc/buyonline

To do price comparisons online, try www.destinationrx.com.

Kimberly Calder is the manager of Insurance Initiatives at the National MS Society.

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Contact your chapter at 1-800-FIGHT-MS (1-800-344-4867)
Health Insurance and Medicare
  Last updated June 7, 2006