Shopping for Health

by Christina Medvescek on September 1, 2003 - 3:06pm

Is there a pill to ease the pain of high drug costs?

Americans pay more than anyone else in the industrialized world for drugs that are largely developed and manufactured in their own country. Beyond that incongruity is another one: Those least able to pay — the ones without prescription drug insurance — are paying the highest drug prices of all. The deep drug discounts go to large insurance companies and health maintenance organizations.

This price discrepancy affects thousands: self-employed, unemployed and part-time workers with no insurance, Medicare recipients with no drug coverage, people whove recently lost Medicaid benefits, retirees whove had benefits cut by former employers, and even the insured, if their plans dont cover certain drugs, or if theyve exceeded their benefits.

Many hope the government will ride to the rescue with Medicare prescription drug benefits. But the House and Senate plans currently under fierce debate in Congress are complicated affairs with huge gaps in coverage. While they offer benefits to people who currently have none, some still will find it cheaper to buy from Canada (if that remains an option), or will continue to go without.

The most promising effort is a move by Congress and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to speed up approval of generics, which are significantly cheaper than brand name drugs, and to block endless patent extensions by brand name manufacturers.

If youre one of those without prescription drug coverage, theres no pill to completely block the financial pain. But if youre willing to do a little legwork and use multiple strategies, there are ways to take the edge off and keep a few more bucks in your pocket.

In the stories below, Quest details three cost-saving strategies in order of least to highest savings: buying with drug discount cards, buying online from U.S. pharmacies and buying from Canada. We also offer tips on buying low-cost supplements, vitamins and minerals. (Remember, if you arent connected to the Internet at home, you can get online for free at many public libraries.)

Go forth and compare, and may good health be with you.

Note: Prices quoted in charts are for comparison only. Prices may have changed, or you may be able to buy at a lower price in different quantities, dosages or formulations.

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