Some are skipping much-needed care to save money

Ginger Rough | 3/25/2009, 5:46 a.m.

Doctors say effectively controlling the cost of medications is one of the best ways to have a positive impact on your health care budget.

There are several ways to do this without causing yourself harm.

The first, and most obvious, is to speak with your doctor or pharmacist about the use of generic medications. A variety of retailers now offer hundreds of medications in generic form for as little as $4 for a 30-day supply or $10 for a 90-day supply.

“I would recommend that you simply not use brand names unless your doctor says there is a specific reason for you to take one,” said John Cerni, a pharmacy supervisor for CVS in Chandler.

If your medication doesn’t come in a generic form, there are still other ways to save.

For example, if you have insurance, check your provider’s formulary, which is the list of drugs covered by your plan.

Many insurance companies have different “tiers” of medication. Co-pays for some might run as high as $45, whereas a similar medication in a different tier could cost as little as $10 or $20, Cerni said. Check with your doctor or pharmacist about the less expensive option.

In many cases, a physician can prescribe a double-strength dose of an existing medication, which allows the patient to cut the pills in half and stretch them twice as long.

“The most important thing is to stay in touch with your provider,” said Kim Leight, a Tempe-based mental health nurse practitioner. “We don’t cut people off. We have samples, we don’t have as much as we used to, but we really want to continue helping.”

Doctors warn that patients should never stop taking a prescription without consulting with a doctor. They also say people should not skip doses of a prescription or take only half a pill in an attempt to make the medication last longer.

Physicians say that this tactic, which basically gives you half a dose, undermines the medication’s ability to work properly. The results can be deadly, doctors say.

“I had a patient in ICU over the weekend because she decided to stop taking her anti-psychotic. She couldn’t afford it and had a breakdown,” Leight said.

Doctors say that in trying economic times such as these, stress levels skyrocket. That can have a very negative effect on the immune system.

As hard — and even simplistic — as it may sound, physicians say getting adequate amounts of sleep and proper nutrition are among the most important things patients can do to help keep their stress levels in check and their immune system healthy.

The best prevention efforts tend to cost very little.

“I truly believe in preventative care,” Lao said. “It’s so fundamental, but we tend to ignore the basics. And then our immunity goes down, and we get sick.”

(The Arizona Republic)