5 Questions to Ask Your Pharmacist to Save Money

Aisha Langford

save money with your pharmacistIn 2008, the United States spent a staggering $234 billion on prescription drugs.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48 percent of Americans between the ages of 20 and 59 take at least one prescription drug. Among Americans 60 and older, 76 percent use two or more prescription drugs.

Managing your medications can be confusing and expensive. That's why it's important to get to know your pharmacist and to ask questions.

"Pharmacists are the most accessible members of your health care team," says Sophia De Monte, a pharmacy manager in Nesconset, N.Y.

Here are five questions to ask your pharmacist to save money.

1. Does taking this medication mean I can stop taking another medication?

Ask your doctor andpharmacist before you stop taking any prescriptions. Reducing the number of medications you take will save you money because you won't be paying for unnecessary drugs.

Having less medications at home will also reduce your chances of taking the wrong medication and ending up in the emergency room.

It's especially important to talk to your pharmacist after transitioning from a hospital stay to being back home.

"Many people take medications that have too many alternatives. Because of these alternatives, hospitals streamline the selection of drugs stocked and may temporarily change a patient to another alternative when hospitalized," says Norman Tomaka, a consultant pharmacist and health care risk manager in Melbourne, Fla.

This means that when you're discharged, you may receive a new prescription for the drug you received in hospital and take it alongside your previous prescription that you had before you went into hospital.

"(These duplicates) could be harmful," Tomaka says.

2. Can I keep taking my vitamins, herbs, supplements, and over-the-counter medications?

Ask your pharmacist if non-prescription drugs will interfere with your prescription drugs.

What many people don't realize, says Derek Quinn, vice president of Westlake Drug, an independent pharmacy in Portage, Mich, is that vitamins, herbs and supplements are all forms of drugs.

For example, vitamin E has a blood thinning effect. Combining it with a prescription blood thinner like Coumadin may put you at risk for increased bleeding. Increased bleeding can land you in the hospital and even cause death.

3. Can I schedule an appointment to review my medications?

Ask your pharmacist about scheduling a medication therapy management visit.
During the visit, your pharmacist will review of all of your medications and suggest ways to save money.

For example, by switching to a more potent drug, you may be able to reduce the total number of drugs you take.

Your pharmacist can also tell you if switching health insurance plans, including those within Medicare, will lower your medication costs.

The Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) expanded medication therapy management for enrollees in Medicare Part D who have multiple chronic diseases and take various prescription drugs covered by the Part D program.

This expansion includes a yearly medication review by a licensed pharmacist or other qualified healthcare provider; either in person, by telephone, or by videoconference.

4. Is there a generic equivalent for this medication?

Ask your pharmacist if a generic drug is available. Generic drugs typically cost 80 to 85 percent less than brand name drugs, and they can be just as effective as brand name drugs.

Generic drugs are required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to have the same active ingredient as the brand name drug. The main differences between generic and brand-name drugs are the inactive ingredients.

For most people, these differences in the inactive ingredients won't cause any problems. For others, like those who take time-release medication, these differences may matter. Be sure to ask your pharmacist about any risks before you make the change to generic.

5. Are there any resources to help me with the cost of my medications?

Ask your pharmacist if there are patient assistance programs in your area. "Many communities have local resources available to patients having problems paying for medications," says Joseph Leonard, a pharmacy manager in Owosso, Mich.

Your pharmacist may know social workers or patient advocates who can assist you with filling out the forms. "Websites like Needy Meds can also help patients find low-cost options for getting their medications," says Vincent Hartzell, president of a family-owned pharmacy in Catasauqua, Pa.

Other tips for building a relationship with your pharmacist

  • Take time to find a pharmacist who is engaging and willing to listen to you.
  • Use one pharmacy and one pharmacist for all of your medication needs.
  • Be patient and flexible. There are peak times during the day when pharmacies are busy. Ask your pharmacist about the best time to come in or call so you'll have his or her full attention.

"Having a healthy and consistent dialogue with your pharmacist is one of the best ways to avoid the high cost of ineffective treatment and poor health," says Jeff McClusky, a pharmacy supervisor in Houston.