Getting a Handle on Prescription Medications

By Jim Miller

There’s no doubt that older Americans are taking more prescription medications than ever before. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, around 40 percent of seniors, aged 65 and older, take five or more medications. And the more drugs a person takes, the higher their risk for medication problems, and the more likely they are to take something they don’t need.

Brown Bag Review

To help you get a better handle on the medications, gather up all pill bottles include all prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements — and put them in a bag and take them to your primary doctor or pharmacist for a thorough drug checkup. This “brown bag review’ will give you a chance to check for duplicate meds, excessive doses and dangerous interactions, and for you to ask questions.

Medicare Part B covers free yearly medication reviews with a doctor through their annual wellness visits, and many Medicare Part D plans cover medication reviews with a pharmacist too.

Go over the basics for each medication or supplement, such as what it’s for, how long you should take it, what it costs, and any side effects and potential interactions. Also ask if there are any meds you can stop taking, and find out if there are any nondrug options that might be safer, and whether you can switch to a lower dose.

To help you avoid future medication problems, make sure your primary doctor is aware of all the medications, over-the-counter drugs and supplements you take. You should also keep an up dated list of everything you take and share it with every doctor you see. And, be sure that you fill all your prescriptions at the same pharmacy and informs your pharmacist of any over-the-counter, herbal or mail order prescriptions you’re taking so that there is complete oversight of your medications.

How To Save

To help cut your medication costs, there are a number of cost saving tips you can try. For starters, find out if there are any generic alternatives to the drugs you currently take. Switching to generics saves anywhere between 20 and 90 percent.

You should also ask your prescribing doctors if any of the pills you take could be cut in half. Pill splitting allows you to get two months worth of medicine for the price of one. And for the drugs you take long-term, ask for a three-month prescription, which is usually cheaper than buying month-to-month.

Because drug prices can vary depending on where you buy them, another way to save is by shopping around (GoodRX.com will help you compare drug prices at U.S. pharmacies), and find out if your mom’s drug insurance plan offers cheaper deals through preferred pharmacies or a mail-order service.

And finally, if your income is limited, you can probably get help through drug assistance programs offered through pharmaceutical companies, government agencies and charitable organizations. To find these types of programs use BenefitsCheckUp.org.

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