Having higher-than-average health care needs can put a financial strain on even the best-prepared people. Everyone knows that a one-time medical emergency can leave a hefty bill behind, but there's one sneaky health care expense that just keeps coming: medication. As the price of prescription medications continues to climb, your members may be struggling with the added costs. One way unions are stepping up to help is by offering pharmacy resources.
A 2018 Consumer Reports survey of 1,200 adults taking a prescription drug reported that many are cutting back on groceries, retiring later and working second jobs to cover expenses. Some are even rationing their medications because of the cost. Another survey by the National Center for Health Statistics found that the high cost of prescriptions keeps 8 percent of adults in the U.S. from taking medications their doctor has prescribed for them.
This means that your members may feel forced to make decisions that are detrimental to their health due to the challenges of finding affordable medication, not to mention the inconvenience of long wait times at the pharmacy. All of these factors — combined with the stress of struggling to access prescriptions — come together to bring on additional health problems and time away from work. That said, unions can help by educating members on the variety of options available to them when it comes to their prescription medications. Here are three tips to pass on to your members.
1. Ask About Generic Drugs
The cost of medications can add up quickly, especially if members are juggling multiple prescriptions. One way to cut the price of many drugs is to go for a generic option. Generic drugs are made to be identical to brand-name drugs already on the market. They're indistinguishable in terms of safety and strength, and there's no difference in the way they're taken or how they perform.
A pharmaceutical company can make a generic version of a brand-name drug after the drug's patent ends. Because the generic company doesn't have to repeat studies to test medications — the brand-name company has already done that — generic drugs are often cheaper.
Sometimes, patients are wary of asking about alternatives during a doctor's appointment if they've already been prescribed a certain medication. Most times, though, doctors are happy to work with their patients to find more cost-effective alternatives if they're out there.
2. Opt for Online Refills
When it comes to pharmacy resources, another way to make affording and acquiring medications easier is to educate your members about the possibility of ordering prescriptions online and having them delivered straight to their door.
Members can sign up to have their prescriptions automatically sent to them in the mail, avoiding travel time to the pharmacy and long lines at the counter. Depending on the medication, members may even be able to order a three-month supply of their medication or secure discounted prices.
With this option, remind members to check that their prescriptions are up to date in the online platform they use — and that they don't change between refills. Members should also build in time to wait for deliveries so that they don't have to go without critical medication.
3. Don't Forget to Shop Around
Prices of prescription drugs often vary depending on which pharmacy you visit. This means that if your members pay a coinsurance (versus having set copays by tier), they may be able to get more value for their dollar by shopping around. While some pharmacies buy straight from drug manufacturers, others will use a middleman to make the purchase, increasing costs. Let members know that they may want to call around to several local pharmacies to see how the cost of their prescription varies. Members can also use an online resource like WeRx or GoodRx to help them find the best price.
The high cost of prescription drugs can affect every other element of your members' lives. When you help them navigate the sometimes complicated world of pharmacy resources, you're investing in their overall well-being and helping them to be their most productive, engaged and stress-free selves.
With 15 years' experience writing for publications including The Wall Street Journal, Barron's, The Christian Science Monitor and Newsday—Deborah Blumberg specializes in business and finance and health and wellness. She writes about topics including corporate communications, financial markets, real estate, renewable energy, cancer, health education, nutrition, supplements, the microbiome and functional medicine. She was a Knight Center fellow and a Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism fellow. Her time working in marketing and communications at JPMorgan Chase taught her how to best tell a company's story. She's adept at turning complex ideas into compelling copy. She's also an officer of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) and a Women in the Visual and Literary Arts board member, and she is fluent in Spanish.