Nova Scotia·Health Hacks

Getting the best bang for your buck when it comes to prescription drugs

Halifax health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton shares her tips about how to afford expensive prescription drugs.

Health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton shares her health hacks with CBC's Information Morning

Halifax health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton shares her health hacks on covering the cost of expensive prescription drugs. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

This is part of a series from CBC's Information Morning where Halifax health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton discusses her "health hacks" — ways to make your experience with the health-care system better.

When it comes to affording expensive prescription drugs, there are options besides sucking it up.

Before getting your prescription filled, health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton said you should ask the pharmacist to test the prescription against your coverage, similar to price checking an item in a store.

If the coverage is only partial, Hampton said you should phone your drug plan provider and ask why, because the plan might cover some drugs more than others, or that particular pharmacy's prices might be higher than others.

"When you're getting multiple prescriptions and it's kind of getting to be a complicated medical profile, shop around and make sure you're getting the absolute best price," Hampton told CBC Nova Scotia's Information Morning.

Hampton said it's within a pharmacist's scope of practice to substitute a generic medication for a brand-name one. (Regis Duvignau/Reuters)

If you've been prescribed a brand-name medication but your plan only covers up to the cost of the generic version, Hampton said you can ask the pharmacist if the generic drug would work for you. It's within the scope of a pharmacist's practice to substitute the generic version, she said, but some people might be hesitant to make the switch.

"I would encourage people, before you make that emotional decision, really have a conversation to see if the generic would be just as good," she said.

For those choosing to stick with the brand-name drug, Hampton said you can register for a brand assistance card online, with Innovicare or RxHelp. The programs are free, and are funded by pharmaceutical companies, she said. Just bring the card to the pharmacy and you'll get a discount on the brand you're buying.

Hampton said not all brands are available, but as a registered user you can get updates whenever a new drug is added.

"It can be really helpful for people," she said.

Mary Jane Hampton said when it comes to paying for your prescription medication, you need to know your options. (Robert Short/CBC)

Sometimes a generic option isn't available because the drug is brand new. If that's the case, Hampton said to ask your physician or nurse practitioner if a patient-support program is available.

Pharmaceutical companies also fund patient-support programs, which can sometimes provide financial assistance with the cost of medication, she said.

Another option is to ask the pharmacy if the drug plan would cover the medication if you had prior approval. It's basically a note from your physician or nurse practitioner that states you need that particular medication, and no substitute will suffice.

Hampton said drug plans will often accept a prior approval, but it takes a few weeks to process so it's something you should think about before even leaving the doctor's office.

Buying in bulk

A local group called Genrus United buys in bulk and offers better rates for certain medications. Hampton said for a yearly fee of $79 (or monthly fee of $7.95) you get access to its preferred pricing list.

Hampton said the list of drugs is limited, and you're required to pick them up from one of the pharmacies the group has partnered with. It has pharmacies from Yarmouth to Glace Bay.

The Metropolitan Dispensary at the IWK Health Sciences Centre in Halifax also buys in bulk but is a not-for-profit pharmacy embedded within the hospital pharmacy system. Hampton said it's able to pass those savings on to people who come in.

"It's more of a temporary solution for people who are just in a real cash crisis, and they need something to get them over the hump until they can get into some kind of drug plan or figure things out some other way," Hampton said.

It's open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m., and it's cash only, she said. Patients need to be referred by a doctor, social worker, or community services worker to access it.

Mary Jane Hampton has more suggestions for ways to cut prescription drug costs. This week, help in controlling the cost of prescription medications. 7:59

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With files from CBC's Information Morning

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