4 ways to save money on prescriptions

Canada’s health-care system has a fundamental flaw: lack of a publicly-funded pharmacare program. But there are ways to manage your prescription medication costs.med savings

Our universal health-care system provides publicly-funded essential doctor and hospital care based on need rather than not ability to pay.med savings

But Canada is the only industrialized country in the world that has a universal health system without a publicly-funded program to cover prescription medication costs outside of hospitals. So most Canadians pay for their prescriptions through private insurance programs or out-of-pocket.med savings

Canadians also pay some of the highest prices for prescription drugs in the developed world, thanks to a patchwork system of negotiating drug prices that undermines our collective clout.

The result? As many as one in five Canadians can’t afford the medications their doctors prescribe, according to a national poll – and some even skip them altogether, with possible catastrophic health consequences.

So saving even a few bucks per prescription could add up to a big savings over time, and ensure better health for millions of Canadians. Here are four ways you could save on your prescription medication.

Ask your doctor if you should (still) be on the medication

Never stop a prescribed medication without consulting your doctor. Reducing or stopping a medication could have serious health consequences. However, it’s worth asking your doctor if you need to be on the medication.

Campaigns such as Choosing Wisely Canada, in partnership with the Canadian Medical Association, have suggestions to help avoid unnecessary medical tests and treatments that evidence shows don’t enhance care. For example, taking antibiotics for a viral infection is ineffective.

Other organizations, such as the Deprescribing Network, warn against over-medicalization, particularly for seniors. Often, medications that were once useful are no longer needed and may cause unnecessary harm.

Review your medications regularly with your doctor to make sure you’re on the lowest dosage required, to weigh the benefits and risks, and to consider if you need the medication at all.

Ask your pharmacist or doctor for a generic instead of a brand-name medication

Cheaper generic drugs have identical medicinal ingredients as their brand-name counterparts. This means the generic drug has the same benefits, risks and side-effects as the brand name, and has gone through the same government testing.

The only differences may be in the non-medicinal ingredients and, of course, the price, which can be substantial.

Newer medications typically won’t have generic equivalents – because of drug patent protections – but most health conditions can be treated with cheaper generic drugs.

Shop for less expensive dispensing fees and price check medication costs

You’re charged a professional dispensing fee each time you buy your medication at the pharmacy. The fee can vary widely between pharmacies – by several dollars – so it can add up quickly. Compare dispensing fees for local pharmacies.

Also, in some provinces, even the price consumers pay for medications can vary by pharmacy, so price check for the best deal.

If you’ve taken a drug for a long time and your physician indicates you’ll continue to take it, getting it filled less frequently can save money on repeat dispensing fees.

When price checking, keep in mind that you can find pharmacies in many locations – inside medical centres, grocery stores and even big box stores.

Pharmacists can be good sources of information, so if you find one that takes the time to provide consultation and advice, weigh the quality of care you receive with the dispensing fee.

Check for subsidized programs

Each province, and some federal programs, offer subsidized or partially-subsidized coverage of medicines for certain people, such as those with disabilities, those under certain income levels, seniors, natives and refugees. Check to see if you’re eligible.

New guidelines for physicians in Ontario, Manitoba, B.C. and other provinces help connect patients with government programs, including prescription drug coverage. Ask your doctor.

Non-profit organizations, such as those focusing on a specific disorder or disease, or those for seniors, can often connect patients with government programs.

If you’re still unsure, ask your member of Parliament or the provincial legislature for help. You may also want to ask them why Canada doesn’t have a national pharmacare program while you are at it.

— Kathleen O’Grady is the managing editor of EvidenceNetwork.ca and a research associate at the Simone de Beauvoir Institute, Concordia University. She is co-editor of Why We Need More Canadian Health Policy in the Media (available for free download from Apple, Kindle and Google and on EvidenceNetwork.ca).


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