QUESTION: I have two chronic health conditions for which I take five medications daily. This year I expect to pay more than $1,000 for drugs, none of which is covered by Medicare or my supplemental-health insurer. How can I trim my prescription-drug costs?
ANSWER: For starters, shop around for the lowest prices. Prescription drugs can cost more than twice as much from one pharmacy to the next in the same community, according to a survey by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). And pharmacies that provide 24-hour service, free delivery and other conveniences charge slightly higher prices, AARP reported.The AARP study also confirmed that generic drugs can provide substantial savings for consumers. On average, brand-name medications are more than twice as expensive as generics. But again, it pays to shop around: Some pharmacies sell generics for just as much as other pharmacies sell brand names.
You might also save by buying medications from mail-order pharmacies, which can often charge less because of their low overhead. Shipments may take a few weeks, so it's best to fill a new prescription at a local pharmacy and then send a second prescription for the same drug through the mail.
Upgrading your supplemental health-insurance policy to provide coverage for prescription drugs may also save you money, depending on how comprehensive the coverage is (does it cover all drugs?) and on how much it costs. Think twice before replacing an existing policy with a new one with drug benefits, as switching may subject you to new exclusions and waiting periods that can limit your coverage.
Another alternative is to enroll in a pre-paid health plan that provides prescription-drug benefits. However, don't let this single consideration drive your decision. Make sure youunderstand the pros and cons of joining a pre-paid health plan before taking any action.
Nine states provide financial assistance to low-income elderly to help them pay for their prescription drugs. If you live in Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania or Rhode Island, call your State Department of Aging to find out about government-sponsored pharmaceutical-assistance programs.
QUESTION: My 82-year-old mother, recuperating from hip-replacement surgery, has temporarily moved in with my family in Los Angeles. My brother also lives nearby. I have tried to convince Mom to move here permanently, but she won't consider it. She plans to return to her Florida home. My brother and I are worried about her as she'll be so far away and she lives alone. What can we do to ensure her safety? Would a personal attendant or an alarm system help?
ANSWER: If your mother has lived in Florida for any length of time, she probably has a network of friends who are available to help her on a temporary or permanent basis. Also, because Florida has a very large population of older people, it has been on the forefront of providing care to the aged and has a wide array of agencies that offer senior services. Discuss your concerns about her safety and welfare, and try to arrive at a plan you mutually agree upon for ensuring them.
One option to consider is arranging for a care manager at a local Area Agency on Aging or family-service agency to visit your mother at home to assess her overall functioning. She may need help with transportation, shopping, personal care or housekeeping. The care manager can help her obtain these services.
To help ensure her well-being in case of emergency, check into telephone-reassurance programs offered in most communities. In these programs, an older volunteer or other person calls the participant daily to make sure all is well. Another option is a personal-emergency response system (PERS). It provides an inexpensive way of allowing people like your mother to live alone while knowing that emergency help is just a push button away. Adult children often purchase these systems for their parents.
A variety of systems are available, and most operate along similar lines. When a button is pressed, it triggers a signal that automatically places a call for help to a monitoring center. The center responds according to a medical-history protocol for that PERS owner. Many systems are interactive in that they try to contact the person signaling the emergency.
If your mother is interested in a PERS, consider renting or buying one through a non-profit agency or hospital. Try out the system before making a final decision.