The Attorney General provides Consumer Alerts to inform the public of unfair, misleading, or deceptive business practices, and to provide information and guidance on other issues of concern. Consumer Alerts are not legal advice, legal authority, or a binding legal opinion from the Department of Attorney General.
HOW TO SAFELY SAVE MONEY ON PRESCRIPTION DRUGS
You can enjoy substantial savings by comparison shopping for prescription drugs. Checking websites or making a few phone calls can make a big difference in what you pay for prescription drugs. In 2009 phone surveys of pharmacies in communities across Michigan related to the cost of Tamiflu, a drug that can help patients suffering from H1N1 and the seasonal flu, excluding select pharmacies offering free Tamiflu while their supplies last, the Attorney General discovered that statewide prices ranged from $28.00 at one Lansing pharmacy to $605.89 at one Detroit pharmacy.
Large prices differences are not unique to Michigan, one national study of commonly prescribed drugs found substantial pricing differences, even within the same chain store.
WORK WITH PHARMACIST TO AVOID HARMFUL INTERACTIONS
It is important to keep track of the medications you are taking in order to avoid potentially harmful interactions. If you decide to shop at more than one pharmacy, be sure that you inform all of your pharmacists of all the drugs and supplements that you are taking. Also, consult with your pharmacist about dosages and interactions. Every year, over 18 million people visit emergency rooms because they have taken medication incorrectly.
RESEARCH PRESCRIPTION DRUG SAFETY AND EFFECTIVENESS
To research the safety and effectiveness of prescription drugs, in addition to consulting with your pharmacist, you can visit Consumer Reports Health.Org website at www.consumerreports.org/health/home.htm. You can also visit Consumer Reports "Best Buy Drugs" prescription drug education program, at http://www.consumerreports.org/health/best-buy-drugs/index.htm, which provides in-depth reports for consumers on 20 categories of drugs used to treat 35 major medical illnesses and conditions, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, depression, insomnia, and asthma.
MICHIGAN LAW REQUIRES DISCLOSURE OF DRUG PRICES
Michigan law requires a pharmacist to tell consumers -- in person and over the phone -- the cost of a prescription drug. Asking for cost information does not obligate a consumer to buy from any particular pharmacy. MCL 333.17757.
Additionally, every pharmacy must conspicuously display at each counter over which prescription drugs are dispensed written notice of the consumer's right to prescription drug cost information. Pharmacies must also inform consumers that they do not have to purchase their prescriptions at that pharmacy, and they can use the price information to comparison shop.
Compare Prices on the Michigan Rx Price Finder website
Comparison shop by visiting Michigan's Rx Price Finder at www.michigandrugprices.com. The Rx Price Finder allows consumers to view prices on 150 commonly prescribed prescription drugs as purchased by uninsured consumers under the Medicaid program. The website allows you to search for information on a particular drug by geographic region.
Searches on the Rx Price Finder show that prices for the same drugs can vary from pharmacy to pharmacy by as much as 500 percent. In Grand Rapids, for example, one pharmacy priced Trazodone (a generic for Desyrel) at $6.00 while another priced it at $36.50!
Prices for prescription drugs change frequently, even daily. The prices on the Rx Price Finder website reflect the price of the day the last prescription was filled and billed to the Michigan Medicaid Program. Also, consumers with insurance coverage may receive a lower price than that shown on Rx Price Finder because insured consumers' drug prices are often negotiated through discount volume purchases. When planning a purchase, after you view prices on Rx Price Finder, you should contact pharmacies directly to determine current pricing information.
DISCOUNT DRUG SELLERS
Selecting "Discount Drugs," from the www.Michigandrugprices.com homepage accesses an extensive list of steeply discounted drugs available at Kmart, Kroger, Sam's, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart. These retailers sell many generic drugs for $4 for a 30-day supply or $10 for a 90-day supply. Walgreens sells 90-day supplies for many generics for $12.99. You may search the discount drug sellers' portion of the website by retailer or drug category.
COMPARISON SHOP ONLINE PHARMACIES' PRICES
Using Destination Rx, at http://www.destinationrx.com/cdh.aspx, you can compare prices for many prescription drugs offered through online pharmacies such as Walmart, Drugstore.com, and RxUSA.com. You can view Costco online prescription drug prices by going to www.costco.com, selecting "pharmacy," and then selecting "drug pricing". Another online pharmacy, Familymeds.com, also provides prescription drug prices at http://www.familymeds.com/.
WHAT ELSE CAN CONSUMERS DO?
To save money on prescription drugs, consider the following:
Ask about Discount Prescription Drug Programs. Some retailers, such as Walgreens and Kmart, offer discount drug programs for a small annual fee.
Use the phone. If pricing for your prescription drug was not listed on Michigan Rx Price Finder, you can call pharmacies in your area to comparison shop. You can find your local pharmacies, along with their phone numbers and addresses, by entering your zip code or city in Rx Price Finder. Rx Price Finder even gives you a link to directions to the pharmacy using MapQuest.
Ask your pharmacy to price match or transfer your refillable prescriptions. If another pharmacy sells your prescriptions for a lower price, you can take your business to that pharmacy or ask your pharmacist to price match. You can ask the pharmacy with the best price to have your prescriptions transferred from your former pharmacy to theirs. (For safety reasons, the Attorney General recommends that you fill all of your prescriptions at the same pharmacy.) If any pharmacy refuses to give you drug costs information, please file a complaint with the Attorney General's office by mailing us at the address listed at the end of this alert or by filling out an online complaint form at the Attorney General's website, at www.michigan.gov/ag.
Ask for a generic. Unless your doctor requires you to take a brand named drug, ask your pharmacist if a generic version is available. Chances are, unless the drug is relatively new on the market, there will be several cheaper versions of the same drug. Ask your pharmacist how many generic versions of your prescription are made, how many generics the pharmacy sells, and the sale price of each generic. Once you have this information, comparison shop!
Don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Even after comparison pricing, some people still have a difficult time affording their medication. If you are one of those people, there are governmental and private programs that might be able to help you. The following organizations may be able to help, or lead you to other available resources:
MI Child and Healthy Kids. These programs assist eligible pregnant women, babies, and children under the age of 19 by providing them with health insurance for a nominal fee. For more information contact your local Department of Human Services (formerly Family Independence Agency - FIA), call toll free, 1(888) 988-6300, TTY 1(888) 263-5897, or go online to www.michigan.gov/mdch/0,167,7-132-2943_4845_4931---,00.html
Social Security Administration. This is a government agency that oversees Social Security Administration (SSA), Supplemental Security Income, and Medicare. For more information about these and other programs administered by SSA, call 1(800) 772-1213, TTY: 1(800) 325-0778, or go online to: www.ssa.gov/SSA_Home.html
Medicare. This is a federal health insurance program for those receiving Social Security benefits. To learn more about eligibility requirements, explanations of coverage, and how to enroll, call 1(800) 633-4227, or go online to: http://www.cms.gov.
Medicaid. This is a federal health insurance for the elderly, blind, or disabled, as well as for certain groups of children. The services are coordinated through state or local governments through the Department of Social Services or the Social Security Administration. To call for general information, contact your local Department of Human Services, or go online to: http://www.cms.gov.
Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA). PPA is a partnership of drug companies, doctors, health care providers, patient advocacy organizations, and community groups who have combined their resources to help qualifying uninsured consumers get free prescription medicine from various public and private assistance programs. PPA offers consumers access to more than 275 public and private patient assistance programs, including more than 150 programs offered by pharmaceutical companies. To contact PPA, consumers may call 1 (888) 477-2669, or visit the PPA website at www.pparx.org.
Be safe. No matter where you buy your prescription drugs, there is certain information that you should share with your pharmacist to ensure you receive safe medications:
Names of medications you are now taking, including nonprescription drugs and over-the-counter drugs. (Tip: Keep a list with you at all times.)
Any nutritional supplements, herbal products, or homoeopathic preparations you are taking.
Any problems you are having with your medicines. For example, if you have symptoms after you start taking a new medicine, tell your doctor or pharmacist right away.
Pertinent medical history.
Women who are pregnant, breast-feeding, or thinking of becoming pregnant should discuss their plans with a doctor before taking any over-the-counter or prescription medications.
Example questions to ask your pharmacist:
When and how do I take the medicine?
Must I finish it, or can I stop when I'm feeling better?
Can it be crushed instead of swallowed whole?
What if I miss a does or take too much?
What are the possible side effects?
Consumers may contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division at:
Consumer Protection Division
P.O. Box 30213
Lansing, MI 48909
Toll free: 877-765-8388
www.michigan.gov/ag (online complaint form)