Ask an Expert: How to Save Money on Prescription Drugs

helenWhen prescribed and used appropriately, prescription drugs are a key component of modern health care. However, a July 2015 poll by the Angus Reid Institute found that more than one-in-five (23%) Canadians are unable to afford the medications being prescribed to them, and they’re compensating in risky ways – skipping doses, splitting pills, or simply not filling their prescriptions. Non-adherence—not taking medications as prescribed—is one of the major contributors to waste and avoidable cost in the healthcare system, contributing to additional doctor visits, emergency department visits and hospitalizations.

Rather than put yourself at risk to save money on prescription drugs, try these safe-and-sound methods:

1. Be informed: There is typically more than one drug to treat a particular disease or condition, each with a different cost. Speak to your doctor or pharmacist to find out if the drug you have been prescribed is the most cost-effective one for you.

2. Ask about generics: Generic drugs are pharmaceuticals that use the same active ingredients as the original brand formulation but cost an average of 60% less than their brand-name equivalents. Generic drugs are evaluated by Health Canada to ensure there is no meaningful difference between the generic and brand-name drug in terms of the drug’s dosage, safety, strength, and the way in which the drug works in the body. All Canadian provinces have adopted laws and/or regulations that encourage substitution of brand drugs for generics when an approved, therapeutically equivalent generic version is available.

3. Shop around: The cost of a prescription is made up of the price of the drug plus a dispensing fee. Drug prices and dispensing fees vary widely across pharmacies. Drug prices are made up of the Manufacturer’s List Price (MLP) plus a pharmacist’s mark-up which is a percentage of the MLP, and can range from 10% to much higher. Every time you get a prescription filled you are charged a dispensing fee which can range from $4 to $16 depending on the pharmacy. In fact, all of this information can be found on your prescription receipt, so it’s important to understand how to read your prescription receipt if you want to comparison shop. The best price is a combination of drug cost plus dispensing fee.

  • DIN: Refers to the Drug Identification Number. This number uniquely identifies all drug products in Canada. Each strength (i.e. 250 mg, 500 mg) and each form (i.e. tablet, capsule, suspension) of the same drug has its own DIN. If you are calling around to price check, you can use the DIN to identify the exact drug, strength and form.
  • C: Refers to the ingredient portion of the prescription cost. The cost includes the manufacturer’s list price, the wholesaler’s mark-up, and the pharmacy’s mark-up.
  • F: Refers to the dispensing fee.
  • T: This is the total cost charged for the prescription.
  • Patient Pays: This is the amount that the patient is required to pay, based on his or her drug plan coverage.

4. Order a 90-day supply: Since you pay a dispensing fee every time you get a refill, it can be more convenient and even cheaper to order three months’ worth at a time for drugs you take long term. In fact, many plans – including the Ontario Drug Benefit plan – require that you get a 90-day prescription for most medications.

Helen Stevenson is Founder and CEO of Reformulary Group, as well as former Executive Officer, Ontario Public Drug Programs and Assistant Deputy Minister of Health, Province of Ontario. Reformulary Group is the leading provider of formulary management services, most notably its innovative evidence-based formulary, as well as enhanced health and drug data analytics and reporting solutions. The company also provides a tool, DrugFinder, for employees to become better informed as to what drugs are covered, at what co-pay, and what alternatives are recommended by clinical experts.