How to save on prescription medicine

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By Chantal Marr, LSM Insurance

Special to the Financial Independence Hub

In Canada, we enjoy a universal health-care system that provides us with emergency medical treatment, regular health check-ups and hospital care.

Unfortunately, this publicly funded system doesn’t cover all of our prescription medications. This means that aside from meds given to you while you are in the hospital, the majority of Canadians have to pay for their prescription drugs themselves – either through an insurance plan or out of pocket.

Prices for prescription drugs in Canada are also among the highest in the developed world. This is due to a complex web of negotiations that undermine our collective buying power.

This results in many Canadians being unable to afford doctor-prescribed medications. Polls indicate that as many as one in five people can’t buy the medication they need. But not taking the prescribed drugs could lead to catastrophic consequences to their health.

For people who need several prescriptions per month, even saving a few dollars on each one could really add up over the coarse of a year. Here are some ways to save money on prescription medicationL

Ask your doctor if you really need to take the medication

You should never stop taking prescribed drugs without speaking to your doctor first. Not taking the prescribed amount or stopping altogether could seriously effect your health or interfere with the progress of the condition your doctor is treating. However, it never hurts to ask if you really need the medication.

In partnership with the Canadian Medical Association, the Choosing Wisely Canada campaign is dedicated to helping patients avoid medical tests, treatments and procedures that the best available evidence has proven to be ineffective. One example is treating a viral infection with antibiotics. Antibiotics are expensive and do not help cure a viral infection.

The goal of the Deprescribing Network is to reduce drug use that may no longer be needed or has become harmful to the patient’s quality of life. The organization warns against over-medication, especially for seniors. In many cases, medications that had helped the patient in the past are no long effective or are now unnecessary. This could be due to changes in the health the condition or changes in the patient, such as weight gain or loss. Always ask your doctor to review the medications and doses to make sure you only take what you absolutely need.

Always ask for a generic alternative

Generic drugs are a great alternative to expensive brand-name prescription medication. Generic alternatives have the same active ingredients, the same quality and are subject to the same manufacturing standards as their brand-name counterparts. Along with providing the same benefits, they also have the same risks and side-effects. In most cases, the only difference is the price, which is quite substantial. Some generic brands may also have different non-medicinal ingredients.

Generic equivalents can take time to develop, so many newer medications might not have a generic alternative. Brand-name drugs are also protected by patent laws, which can delay the release of generic versions.

Compare prices

Generic medications can be similar among many pharmacies;  however, the dispensing fee can vary greatly. Every time the pharmacy fills a prescription, it charges a service fee. This fee can vary widely from one drug store to another and these differences can add up quickly, especially if you are filling several prescriptions a month.

Comparing the actual price of the medication between pharmacies doesn’t hurt, either. You never know where you might find a better deal. Pharmacies are located in wide variety of places, such as medical centres, large box stores and grocery stores, so make sure to check them all. Convenience and a knowledgeable pharmacist is sometimes worth the extra dollar or two in dispensing fees. Ask yourself if you are really saving money by driving out to the big drug store across town.

If you are on long-term medication – a prescription that is not likely to change for several months – filling it less frequently will save you money on dispensing fees.

Take advantage of subsidized programs

Every province has some types drug subsidy programs that could cover all or a portion of the cost of your prescription medication, if you qualify. There are also some federal subsidies you may be eligible to receive. Find out about these programs and take advantage of any savings they may offer.

New guidelines have been created for physicians in several provinces to help patients find these government programs, so the next time you see your doctor, make sure to ask for more information. Also check with non-profit organizations that focus on a specific diseases or disorders and senior care.

Lead a healthier lifestyle

One of the best ways to save money on prescription medications is to live a healthy lifestyle so that you eliminate, or at least minimize, the need for prescription drugs. Lorne Marr, Director of New Business Development at LSM Insurance and Founder of www.FitAfter45.ca shares his tips.

Lorne Marr

Lorne suggests:

Regular exercise

Find something you enjoy doing and that motivates you to get up and go. The more you enjoy an activity, the more likely you are to do it everyday.

Drink plenty of water

Increase your water intake especially first thing in the morning and while exercising and eat as many green vegetables as you can get your hands on. “Greens are the No. 1 food you can eat regularly to help improve your health,” says Jill Nussinow, MS, RD. “Leafy vegetables are brimming with fiber along with vitamins, minerals, and plant-based substances that may help protect you from heart disease, diabetes, and perhaps even cancer.”

Sleep

Get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night and develop a regular sleep schedule, even on weekends and holidays.

Increase your vitamin D

According to Dr. Zoltan Rona, “The No. 1 health tip for adults over 45 is to take 10,000 IU of vitamin D a day. Check your blood level once a year with your doctor and optimize your blood level. In Canada, only 3 months of the year will ensure you get adequate vitamin D from sunshine. You will prevent more illness with high blood levels of vitamin D than with any other health measure.”

Chantal Marr is President of LSM Insurance, where she is in charge of product development. She has a B.A. from Laval University and Bachelor of Education from the University of Western Ontario. Chantal is a member of the Independent Financial Brokers of Canada, which gives her the flexibility to deal with all major insurance companies. She is fluent in both English and French. For more info on Chantal and others on the LSM Insurance team, click her success stems from her ability to listen to her clients’ needs . This blog was originally posted on on LSM’s website on Feb. 6, 2017 and is republished on the Hub with permission. 

One thought on “How to save on prescription medicine

  1. I think there might be a gross typo in the last paragraph – 10,000 IU of vitamin D sounds a LITTLE excessive considering suggested levels are no more that 800 IU/day for people over 70 and less for younger people – fact checking would help, particularly when publishing medicine related information.

    Also your statement that generics cost the same at all pharmacies is incorrect. Personal experience on a generic script was a variance of greater than 100% – and it wasn’t only the dispensing fee. All drug stores usually take profit over the “drug cost” established by the government – I my case Ontario – see https://www.formulary.health.gov.on.ca/formulary/

    In my experience Costco was consistently the least expensive and you do not have to be a member to access/use the pharmacy – it’s a separately run business.

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