Making sure you can afford your prescriptions

If affording your prescriptions is a challenge, please don’t turn to ‘cost-cutting’ measures like going without, or maybe taking one pill a day instead of two, or splitting your pills and only taking half your prescribed dose. These can end up costing you far more than they save you.

There are almost always ways to make your prescriptions affordable.

First, tell your pharmacist you need something cheaper. Sometimes you can take a less expensive medicine instead. For example, the New York Times reported on Dec. 8 2014, in its story “Paid to Promote Eye Drug, and Prescribing it Widely,” that many doctors have started prescribing Lucentis to treat an eye disease common among seniors — wet macular degeneration — instead of Avastin, which several studies have found to be equally effective. Avastin, the newspaper reported, costs $50 a dose; Lucentis costs $2,000 a dose.

Medicare, of course, is stuck with a lot of that bill. So if your own self-interest in your wallet isn’t enough to prompt you to ask about a cheaper option, do it out of patriotism!

Second, request generic drugs. Generic drugs are safe, effective lower-cost versions of “name brand” drugs. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if there is a generic version of the medicine you take. We’ll talk in more detail about generic drugs next month.

Of course, there may be medical reasons your doctor prescribes a more expensive version of a drug; it’s just worth checking to see if a cheaper option will work for you.

Third, ask your doctor or pharmacist to recommend a financial assistance program that can help you pay for prescriptions, or get discounts.

Alaska 2-1-1 ( is a free statewide helpline run by United Way of Anchorage that points Alaskans to all kinds of resources in their communities. The program can connect you with prescription assistance, including the FamilyWize prescription savings card program, which says it gives consumers the kind of discounts they would get if they belonged to a large insurance company or employer. For details on prescription savings options, or to request a FamilyWize card, call 211 or visit the FamilyWize ( website.

Consumer Reports issued a guide on Getting the Best Price on Your Drugs ( ), as well as other money-saving guides, that you might find useful. You can find it on the Alaska Med Ed website, . Click on the ‘Money & meds’ button at left on the home page.

We’ve also posted links to several prescription assistance programs Consumer Reports suggests, and to some Alaska programs:

- RxAssist:

- Partnership for Prescription Assistance:,

- Needy Meds:

- Medicare:, or call Alaska’s Medicare Information Office, 800-478-6065. You might also visit

One of the topics the Consumer Reports guide covers is splitting pills ( ). In some cases, you may be able to save money by buying a cheaper pill that is twice your dosage, then cutting it in half, and taking half a pill. But for other medicines, this can be dangerous. Always ask your pharmacist whether it is OK to split a medicine.

You can find more information on this, including “Splitting pills: Dos and don’ts” ( ) at that same ‘Money & meds’ section of the Med Ed Alaska website. For example, don’t split your pills with a knife; get a pill-splitter from your pharmacy or health insurance company.

Buying medicine online is another way to find savings. But beware. Buying from a safe online pharmacy is fine, but some companies sell fake or unsafe medicine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a webpage ( ) with information on risks, warning signs and tips on finding a safe online pharmacy. You can find it by searching for “FDA BeSafeRx”, or it’s also in the ‘Money & meds’ section of the Med Ed Alaska website.

Have a question?

Please email us at if you have a medication question you’d like answered, or to request a pill dispenser, wallet-medication list, or magnifying glass.