Another way to save on prescription drugs – buy ‘over the counter’ meds

I’ve probably written as many blog posts on how self-pay patients can save money on prescription drugs as I have on any other topic. But I ran across a video at Consumer Reports yesterday that pointed out another very simple cost-saving method to saving money on medicines: just buy an ‘over the counter’ (OTC) drug that doesn’t require a prescription.

This video reminded me of something one of my former employers, a Congressman who had been a surgeon before he was elected, told me about prescription medications and television advertising. I’m paraphrasing what he said, but it was basically “people with a condition see ads with healthy-looking, active persons described as having that same condition, and they go to their doctor and won’t leave until they get a prescription for that drug.” He went on to explain that since insurance was paying for the medicine, the fact that a much cheaper OTC medicine without a great advertising campaign would do just as well was of little interest to the patient, and as long as the prescription medicine would treat the condition the doctor would often write the prescription just to keep the patient happy and get them out of their office.

Self-pay patients, of course, don’t have the luxury of an insurance company picking up the tab for all of the well-marketed drugs that might treat their conditions. So looking at a cheaper but just as effective OTC drug might be the best way to go.

The video, which I’ve included below, explains that for many common ailments, like heartburn, allergies, and pain, OTC medicines can often be used instead of prescription drugs.

For example, Nexium, which is used to treat heartburn, would cost about $255 after a discount at the local Walmart, according to (that’s for 30 capsules at 40mg). For less than $20, I can pick up 28 pills of Prilosec OTC at Walmart without a prescription. That’s a pretty big savings!

Obviously for some people or some conditions the prescription medicine is still going to be the best option, and I would not recommend  you ignore your doctor’s prescription in favor of an OTC medication. But before you ask your doctor for a prescription, ask if there are any OTC medicines available that will do the job.

I’d encourage you to watch the video, it’s just a few minutes and could save you a bundle!

Also, I would strongly encourage you to check out the Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs section, a tremendous resource for information on prescription and OTC medicines.

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