I love a good deal. And with prescription costs on the rise, who wouldn’t appreciate a free medication sample from your health care provider? But as Candyce Collins, Pharm.D., BCACP, a clinical pharmacist in population health management with Banner Pharmacy Services told me, there can be hidden costs to those freebies.
“The pharmaceutical industry supplies providers with small packages of the brand name drugs,” she said. “They are providing samples to promote the sale of their product.”
If treatment goes well with the samples, often times the drug is prescribed. Or at least that’s the goal of the drug companies – and then you take the prescription to the pharmacy to be filled where you may find the drug is quite costly. In order to get the most out of your health care dollars, and make sure you are complying with therapies recommended by your physician, Collins offers these tips that are as simple as asking a few questions.
“If your provider offers sample starters, look past the immediate gratification of having a medication in hand when you leave the office,” she said. “Ask your provider if there is a less expensive medication covered by your health plan.”
Talk with your doctor about what insurance you have. Most providers have tools or support to determine what drug your plan prefers to pay for, Collins said. While this may take a bit longer up front it has the potential to save you money in the long run. Collins also suggests asking your doctor about generic drugs.
“Generic drugs work, they’ve been on the market longer than newer brand drugs and so the safety experience is also better,” she said. “Manufacturers of generic drugs are required to submit evidence to the FDA that their drug product will produce equivalent drug levels at an equivalent rate and duration as the brand drugs, among other key things, in order to get FDA approval to sell on the prescription drug market.”
Collins says to consider the health-related costs too. If you are prescribed a name brand drug that either isn’t covered by your insurance, or your co-pay is high, you probably won’t want to pay for it if less expensive alternatives exist.
“To change to a lower cost alternative or generic drug, your provider will have to order a new prescription. If your provider prefers the brand name drug then the insurance company will require the provider to fill out and submit an authorization request,” Collins said. “This process can take some time, which could lead to missed doses or delays in treatments.”
So ask those questions up front. And if ultimately your doctor decides a brand name drug is right for you there may still be ways to keep costs lower.
“Some pharmaceutical companies help to offset the cost of their drug by offering co-pay or financial assistance cards,” she said. “These can be found online by searching for the brand name drug.”
While free prescription medication may be great in some cases, like when I switched pharmacies and needed a sample to help cover the days the pharmacy needed to fill my prescription, there are other cases where it can cost you. Next time consider the long-term costs and make sure you talk things through with your doctor.