Here’s how you can help your patients save money

By Samar Mahmoud, MS
Published December 21, 2021

Key Takeaways

Exorbitant health care costs and increasing drug prices are taking a toll on patients, even for those who have insurance. According to a recent survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, getting family health insurance through work now costs employers and their workers more than $22,000 each year, with workers shouldering nearly $6,000 of that cost.

In addition, patients are often unable to afford their prescription medications. One study demonstrated that approximately one of every four hospitalized patients is non-adherent due to medication costs. 

In this era of rising costs, doctors can take an active role in helping patients save money. The following are some ways to help lighten the burden associated with healthcare costs.

Talk to your patients about drug prices

It’s important for doctors to discuss medication prices with their patients. One study found that when these conversations between doctors and patients took place, patients were five times more likely to be switched to a less costly medication. 

To gauge whether patients are burdened by medication cost, the study recommends that doctors ask their patients the following three questions when taking a medication history: 

  • Do your medications cost too much?

  • Have you ever cut back on medication because of cost?

  • Have you ever cut back on other things (eg, food, leisure) because of cost? 

Ways to save on healthcare costs

As a physician, you can make sure your patients are aware of the following: Prescription discount cards. Offered by many organizations, prescription discount cards can save patients a significant amount on medication costs. One example is the GoodRX discount card, which can be used at over 70,000 US pharmacies with discounts of up to 80% on the majority of prescription drugs. 

Walmart’s $4 Drug List (and other pharmacy programs). Walmart’s prescription program is available free of charge at all Walmart pharmacies in the United States (except North Dakota). The program includes nearly 100 different generic medications, most of which are sold for $4 for a 30-day supply and $10 for a 90-day supply. No insurance or fees are required, making this a great option for those who might not have insurance. To see the full list of drugs covered by the Walmart prescription program, click here. Most major pharmacies have similar prescription clubs and savings programs. Click here to learn more about these.

Buy in bulk. Traditionally, pharmacies have provided a 30-day supply of medications to treat patients with chronic diseases. This means that patients with conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure would require 12 refills in a year. 

Patients can instead request a 90-day supply, requiring 4 refills a year. Not only is switching to a 90-day supply more convenient, but it also can be more cost-effective, saving patients an average of $82 a year. 

Check for therapeutic alternatives. When possible, physicians can prescribe generic or biosimilar medications. These life-saving alternatives are often a fraction of the cost of prescription drugs. 

Approximately 92% of generic drug prescriptions in the United States are filled for $20 or less, according to a recent report from the Associations for Accessible Medicines. It is no surprise that prescribing generic medications has saved the US healthcare system a whopping $2.2 trillion in the last decade alone. 

Shop around. Doctors should encourage patients to compare prices of procedures performed at different locations. Even in the same city, the cost of a procedure can be drastically different. Luckily, patients can use resources such as Clear Health Costs to compare prices and make informed decisions about where to schedule any required procedures. 

Shopping around for the best price applies to medications as well. As an example, a survey of 250 pharmacies across 11 states found that a name-brand fluticasone propionate/salmeterol inhaler ranged in price from $12 (lowest) to $463 (median).

Lastly, doctors should consider using an independent lab or imaging facility instead of a hospital lab for non-urgent laboratory testing. By virtue of being open 24 hours a day, a hospital has large overhead costs that make hospital services costly. For example, a chest X-ray or routine blood testing performed at an independent facility costs three to four times less than at a hospital. 

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