Growing up in the 1950s I remember vividly our family doctor. 

It was either a visit to her office for routine things like vaccinations and checkups or a house call from her to our apartment if I had a fever or some kind of unknown rash. She was one doctor for all diseases. Now we have to go to numerous specialists for almost anything besides the common cold or other general health issues. 

According to Consumer Reports, Americans spend more money on prescription medication and over-the-counter drugs than people in any other country. They also claim that since the cost of these drugs is so out of whack with the rest of the world, many seniors are resorting to skipping dosages or going without other staples to pay for these essential medicines. Some have had to resort to taking jobs after retirement or putting off retirement altogether. It’s sad to know that the big drug companies are oblivious to the needs of most seniors on a fixed income. The prices continue to rise, making affordable health care nearly impossible.

So what can we do to minimize the pain (no pun intended)? Most doctors will prescribe a generic alternative to name-brand drugs. Talk to your physician about the differences, if any, and if the medication you take is offered at the extremely reduced price of a generic. This alone can save a lot of money. Also ask your doctor if the medication that may have been prescribed a while ago is still relevant to your current health status. Our bodies keep changing and what might have been necessary two years ago may not be the best course of action now. I have a friend who had been taking one prescription for several years. Her new physician immediately took her off as it was making her heart rate go in the wrong direction for her current heart condition. After the change, she not only saved money, but her health actually improved drastically. 

Patients who take several different medications can also go over them at each visit to ensure they are current and vital. Always follow your doctor’s advice, but if you are at all concerned, nobody is stopping you from getting another opinion. Discuss your options and speak freely about the costs. Pressure brought on by the inability to pay can be just as harmful to your health as your diagnosis. Although doctors do not regularly discuss drug costs with their patients, speak up. 

“Don’t be afraid to take the lead on this,” said Lisa Gill of Consumer Reports. “Asking your doctor for a cheaper alternative can save you money. And using generics can save you up to 85 percent.”

This goes for the pharmacy as well. Whenever possible, have your doctor prescribe enough for 90 days instead of 30. That will save on two co-pays. A lot of us are on long-term medication so this is a very helpful alternative and saves a few trips to the drug store to boot. The pharmacist I use is extremely helpful and whenever possible will look for the lowest price on things. Always ask, and some may even go the extra mile and look for coupons or sale prices on over-the-counter supplements for you to save with. In our area it is easy to find a pharmacist who you are comfortable with. Just like anything else, feel free to shop around until you find the one that is right for you. The drug store is as important as your doctor when it comes to your health. Get to know the staff and let them get to know you. When you find a good one, it can make things a lot easier. The cost of the same prescription can vary by hundreds of dollars, even in the same town. So it can really pay for you to call around to find the best price for what you take.

I am not a politician and certainly don’t have the answers to the questions about our very high health care costs, but if we ask questions and take a little more time, perhaps we can manage our own costs a bit more. I miss the personal touch of my childhood doctor, but I found a very caring primary physician here who guides me in the best direction and is prudent with my medications. She listens and believes sometimes less is more. 

Marla Luckhardt is a Brentwood resident who works with senior care and advocacy groups. Email her at marla2054@aol.com.

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