Tips to Cut Your Drug Costs

Time for your annual generic drug checkup.

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Drug price inflation seems impervious even to a recession, so it makes more sense than ever to do a thorough exam of your drug costs at least once a year. Heck, we take our cars in for a tuneup at least that often, and maintenance costs for a car are much less than most of us pay for prescription drugs.

The exam is relatively easy, too, now that inexpensive generic drug programs at discount and chain pharmacies have taken off. Since Medicare began its Part D prescription drug program in 2006, Wal-Mart and other national (and even local) chains have introduced and expanded generic prescription programs. And with Part D premiums set to rise an average of 30 percent in 2009, finding cheap generics makes increasingly good sense.

Wal-Mart set the mark for such programs by offering selected generics for $4 for a 30-day supply and $10 for a 90-day supply. This "4/10" program has been matched by other outlets, and consumers have benefited.

Programs vary, so it's important to find out the exact costs of the drugs you need to take, including doses.

Armed with your list of drugs, you can go online to check these generics offered by major chains. Offerings are similar but not identical, so read carefully. A particular pharmacy might not have an outlet near you; you'll want to check before signing up. The lists:

CVS
Kroger
Target     
Walgreens
Wal-Mart

Additional programs are included here in an overview by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Other steps to take:

  • If you take a branded drug, check with your doctor to see if there's an acceptable generic equivalent. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a generic equivalency tool that can help.
  • If your pharmacy is not in a 4/10 program (or its equivalent, as chains have come up with their own names), call to see if it will match the price of a generic sold by one of the major chains.
  • Check out mail-order services that might give you comparable or better generic prices and also save you the time and expense of picking up your medications. Here is a good guide to what's available by mail order.
  • Do your generic homework BEFORE you sign up for 2009 health coverage. Whether your drugs are covered by a private plan or through Medicare's Part D prescription drug program, knowing what you might obtain via low-cost generic programs can help you make better decisions on your coverage.