CONSUMER REPORTS - There are lots of changes with medical care these days. But when it comes to prescriptions - the cost only seems to go up.
Americans spend more than $250 billion a year on prescription drugs.
But savvy shopping, even for those covered by insurance, can save you plenty.
It's simply a matter of finding the right substitute.
For people taking prescription medicine regularly, Consumer Reports says the average annual cost is more than $700. But, there are surprising ways to cut your drug costs, such as considering an over-the-counter medication for common ailments. But check with your doctor before doing that.
For seasonal allergies, Claritin is a good and much cheaper substitute for prescription Xyzal.
For heartburn, over-the-counter Prilosec or store brands containing omeprazole are roughly as good as prescription Nexium at a fraction of the cost.
And for occasional insomnia, look for generic diphenhydramine, the ingredient found in Sominex and Benadryl Allergy, rather than prescription Lunesta.
Another way you might be able to save is paying for your prescription yourself - rather than going through your insurance plan.
Paying out of pocket can be cheaper if you use discount programs at some stores.
For example, paying outright for Pravastatin, which lowers cholesterol, could well cost less than your insurance co-pay.
If your insurance company has a preferred pharmacy, you definitely want to shop there because you could see some pretty big deals. If they have a mail-order program, you may want to check that out too.
And when shopping for over-the-counter medicine, look for store brands. They're often right next to name brands and can cost a lot less.
Consumer Reports says don't take drugstore displays that say "clearance" or "sale" at face value.
These offers can entice you to buy a name brand that's on sale, but is still more expensive than the store-brand equivalent.
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(Copyright © 2013 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. All Rights Reserved.)