Don't Use Your Prescription Drug Coupons Until You Read This


If you have health insurance to help cover the cost of prescription drugs, that's great. But the average insured American still spends nearly $200 a year on prescription copays.

Prescription drug coupons can help defray that hefty expense. You present them at the register of your pharmacy just like any other coupon. They reduce your copay, but do not affect the price your insurer pays for the drug. Drugmakers offer these coupons as a form of marketing, and while they can help patients, before using them you should know a few things about how these programs work.

1. Sometimes Brand Name Is Cheaper Than Generic

If your copay for generic medication is $10, but a coupon brings your copay for a similar brand name drug down to $4, you'll save money by going with the brand name. This is the major attraction of drug coupons for patients.

2. Don't Get Steered Into Suboptimal Treatment

It's hard to see how saving money could be bad for your health. But health care decisions should be made between patient and doctor, without intrusion from marketing. Why? Consider this: Doctors often have the choice of multiple drugs to treat any given ailment. Maybe Drug A, a tried and true generic, is the best choice for you, but you ask your doctor for Drug B because you have a coupon that would cover most of your copay. The doctor accommodates you, so you save money — but your treatment has suffered. This is not a hypothetical situation; a Consumer Reports analysis found more than one generic that works as well as or better than a name brand.

3. Coupons Could Cost You More in the Long Run

Like a cable TV teaser rate, the coupon program won't last forever. Once you've established treatment for a chronic condition with the brand name drug, and the coupon ends, you may spend years paying the higher post-coupon price.

4. You May Not Be Eligible to Use the Coupon

Some discount programs exclude members of Medicare, Medicaid, and uninsured people. Always read the fine print.

5. The Coupon Might Not Be Your Cheapest Option

Make sure to do the math before opting for a brand name with a coupon over a generic — the generic still might be cheaper.

6. Coupons May Spike Your Insurance Premiums

When you use a coupon, you pay less — but your insurance company may pay up to 85% more than it would have if you had chosen a less expensive drug. Who cares? Most of us don't have much sympathy for insurance companies. But when your insurer pays more for drugs, it may pass that to you in the form of higher premiums.

"An individual patient who receives a coupon might not realize that, although that particular prescription may cost less that month, overall what it does is to raise costs for everyone, including themselves," Susan Pisano told Kaiser Health News on behalf of trade group America's Health Insurance Plans.

7. Always Get Coupons From a Reputable Source

Don't just click any link online and start entering personal information about what medications you take. A good place to ask about discount programs is your doctor's office. Online, you can enter the drug name and other details at Partnership for Prescription Assistance, and it will connect you to programs you qualify for.

Another convenient and safe way to find discounts is by downloading an app such as GoodRX or WeRx onto your phone. These apps not only find printable coupons, they will also suss out good prices near you on both prescription and over-the-counter medicines, and let you know about pharmacy rewards programs and other opportunities to save.

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