Frugal Sense: Save on prescription drugs

Clint Griffin

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Economist Milton Friedman once said, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” So even if a product or service is free upfront, it’ll hit your wallet in some other way.

May’s winning Frugal $ense tip confirms that adage. But it also contains advice you can apply at the doctor’s office to potentially save hundreds of dollars on prescriptions.

So while there may not be free lunch, there is cheaper lunch.

May’s Frugal $ense winner: Clint Griffin

Clint Griffin won $100 for submitting the following tip:
Why free drug samples are not free
“As a pharmacist, I witness patients unnecessarily overspend for prescriptions. This cycle surprisingly begins with those so-called ‘free’ prescription samples from a doctor’s office.
It seems beneficial at first, but ultimately proves to be very costly. Most of the time, this is the latest medication on the market with no generic equivalent and requires a higher co-pay.
For example, a patient is diagnosed with high blood pressure and the doctor offers a one-month sample of a new antihypertensive medication that a pharmaceutical sales representative gave him. The patient has a good result, takes the prescription to the pharmacy and is charged a $45 co-pay for a one-month supply, which adds up to $540 a year.
Reluctantly, patients pay this price because they are unaware there are generic medications in the same drug class that work as well as the prescription that the physician gave them. If the provider had written a prescription for a generic substitute, the co-pay might have been as low as $5 to $10 a month. This adds up to a cost savings for the patient of $420 a year.
My money-saving tip is simply that patients should resist the temptation of the ‘free’ samples and instead ask the doctor if there is a generic medication that will work the same. Also, all patients need to give their doctor a copy of the medications on their insurance company’s formulary or a list of medications with the lowest co-pay.”
— Clint Griffin, of Helotes, Texas

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Bankrate: Why do doctors commonly give out free samples of the “hot new drugs” on the market?

Clint Griffin: I believe that doctors give out free samples of the “hot new drug” because the sales reps give them a stockpile (of) free samples and (it) fills up their sample drug closet. The inexpensive medications, i.e., generics, do not have sales reps actively pushing their product.

Bankrate: What’s the advantage to doctors of doing this?

Clint Griffin: I am not sure if there is an advantage, but rather they have it, so why not give it out to patients? Plus, I think that doctors honestly think that they are doing the patients a favor.

Bankrate: What are some examples of chronic conditions besides high blood pressure where this kind of thing happens?

Clint Griffin: Take for example allergy nasal steroid-sprays. Even though there are generics available, your doctor may give you a “free” sample of the newest medication and a prescription instead of telling you that a generic is available and your insurance co-pay may only be $4 to $5.

Bankrate: Is this really just as simple as asking one or two questions?

Clint Griffin: Yes, this is really is as simple as asking your doctor these questions: 1. Is there a generic available? 2. Will you prescribe a medication from my insurance formulary list? These two simple questions can save you plenty of money. However, I understand that the doctor’s office is very intimidating, and when a doctor tells you that you have an illness or a condition, most patients may feel scared or vulnerable and do not want to question the doctors.