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For cheaper prescription drugs, see your doctor
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Money-saving tips and tools
As Patton indicates, the process of saving money on your prescriptions begins in your doctor's office. If you are on a number of medications, especially if different doctors prescribe them, make sure that the drugs aren't producing harmful interactions.

Consider these money-saving tips and tools:

At the doctor's office. When your doctor wants to put you on a new medication, ask if it is a brand-name and if there are any generics or over-the-counter drugs that could do the same job. The Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs Web site provides educational videos and in-depth reports of the benefits of drugs and their prices. These reports provide comparisons to drugs in the same class, including generics and OTC medications, and are designed so that you can download them and bring them to your doctor at your next appointment.

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If you must have the brand name, ask the doctor if there are any samples you can have so you can see how the drug affects you before you shell out money for an entire month's worth. Albert Wertheimer, director of the Center for Pharmaceutical Health Services Research at the Temple University School of Pharmacy, recommends that consumers ask their doctors to prescribe a double dose -- 100 mg instead of 50 mg, for example -- and then cut the pills in half, resulting in a savings of anywhere from 30 percent to 50 percent. Pill splitters are available at drug stores for $5 or so. Pills with scores in them can usually be safely split, but not every pill is designed to be split. So before you split a pill, check with your doctor or pharmacist.

Before you buy. Instead of heading directly to your local pharmacy, use the Web and your phone to find the lowest price for your particular prescription.

"Many people assume that drug prices are uniform and do not bother to comparison shop," Herrick says. "In fact, drug prices vary considerably. One survey found that prudent shopping among local pharmacies saved consumers almost 10 percent on brand-name drugs and a whopping 81 percent on generics, on average."

Research and consultation with a pharmacist might also turn up generic or even OTC alternatives to a brand-name drug, resulting in even more savings. Call locally owned pharmacies, chain pharmacies and drug stores and warehouse stores for their prices and check out these Web sites:

  • Register for free and find out about generic and OTC alternatives and comparison shop among retailers for the lowest price.
  • This site offers information and education on drugs and alternatives and a price-comparison tool.

If you can't afford your prescriptions. For the millions of Americans with no prescription drug insurance coverage, there are a number of public and private assistance programs that can assist you in paying for your medications. Pharmaceutical companies run patient-assistance programs, and many states and other programs can also help. But you need to do the research to find out what is out there and if you qualify. These sites will get you started:

  • The Partnership for Prescription Assistance offers a site,, developed by major pharmaceutical companies and patient advocacy groups to help consumers determine if they are eligible for prescription assistance. If you are, you can enroll in programs through this site.
  • casts a wider net and includes information on federal, state and local programs, discount drug cards, and other prescription and generic drug-assistance programs.

Other programs. Seniors benefit from the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit Coverage plan passed by Congress (see "Deciphering Medicare Part D"). Many veterans are eligible for coverage through Tricare, a Department of Defense program; more information is available at's corrections policy -- Posted: May 24, 2006
More stories by Amy Buttell Crane
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