The down economy and higher out-of-pocket insurance costs are making it more difficult for many Americans to pay for prescription drugs, but there are many ways to find a good deal.
And I'm not just talking about buying generic and splitting pills. One of the best strategies may be to shop around.
In a survey released this week by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, the percentage of people skimping on medication and other forms of healthcare rose to 48 percent, up 9 percentage points from last year.
While some people put off a doctor's visit, screening or test, 16 percent weren't filling a prescription, 12 percent were skipping a dose and 8 percent were splitting pills without consulting a doctor or pharmacist.
If the cost of drugs is stopping you from buying them, you should shop around for a better price, said Mark Tackett, pharmacist and owner of Tackett Pharmacy stores in Weatherford and Willow Park.
"I opened a store last year in Weatherford between a Walgreens and a Walmart. It's not a problem to compete on price," he said. "We save our clients a bunch of money and still make a decent profit."
David Tate, a pharmacist at Best Value Pharmacies in Granbury, said he helped a woman get Focalin, a drug for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, for $66 compared with the $151 she'd been paying.
"We try to beat the chains when we can," he said. "And we try to price-match."
The pharmacists say they often go out of their way to find online coupons and financial help through the drug companies, government or churches to help their clients, in addition to offering lower prices.
Big chains don't always have the best prices, Tackett said.
"People have their mind-set that the big chains offer $4 drugs, so everything must be a lower price, even those drugs not on their $4 list," he said. "That is not always the case. Often drugs not on that list are higher than what I charge."
Sometimes paying full price in cash can be cheaper than an insurance co-pay, Tackett said. Another way to save is to use a drugstore instead of mail order.
"We've seen numerous cases where people felt like they were required to use their mail-order prescription program with their insurer," he said. "They may charge $30 for a 90-day supply of a generic drug, and we would charge $15 or $20 for that same prescription."
If you use your insurance to price shop, make sure the pharmacist is going the extra step to check with your insurer, said Rob Penny, business director at Tackett.
"Last week we had a doctor call us after CVS quoted him a price of more than $700 for a prescription," he said. "We ran it through on his insurance and it was $44. They just didn't bother to run it through."
A quick look at a comparison drug website set up by the state of Michigan shows the vast difference in drug fees. At MichiganDrugPrices.com, you can enter a request for 150 drugs and find the cash price at thousands of pharmacies listed by ZIP code.
For example, a 30-day supply of Lipitor can run from $114.90 to $160.29, depending on which of the 130 Detroit pharmacies you choose. A 30-day supply of Norvasc, a high blood pressure drug, had an even wider spread, from $5.43 to $501.40. Pharmacies are required to report prices to the state whenever they fill a Medicaid prescription.
Some local pharmacists will help their clients facing high drug prices by checking websites for drug coupons. But consumers can do their own checking before going to the pharmacy. Some sites with drug company coupons and discounts include www.Optimizerx.com, www.InternetDrugCoupons.com and www.RxVouchers.com.
Also, check drug company websites directly for special offers and financial help programs.
Finally, most discounts and financial assistance from the major drug companies and government agencies can be found at the Partnership for Prescription Assistance Texas chapter at www.pparxtx.org or 888-477-2559.
This program, which started in 2005 and now has 475 drug discount programs, has helped more than 537,000 Texans and 7 million consumers nationwide, said Kaelan Hollon, spokeswoman for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which supports the website.
"The PPA is a one-stop shopping spot for a lot of different programs, several 20 to 30 years old," Hollon said. "The problem was nobody was using them and they were hard to navigate."
The PPA Texas website does not ask for information like name or address, but asks for income level, age and what drugs you are taking to match you with available programs. A request for asset level will be removed from the website within a week, she added.
"Seventy percent of people who are unemployed or without insurance are getting help with these programs," Hollon said. "All of these programs are on a case-by-case basis. Some people think they don't qualify, but if you are low-income or uninsured, just check."
Teresa McUsic's column appears Fridays.