A long time ago in a land far away (Lufkin and Waco), I worked at Eckerd Drugs. I learned a ton: working the front cash register, developing pictures in the photo lab, and eventually, I made my way back to the pharmacy where I became a nationally certified pharmacy tech. Because of my two years of experience counting pills and dealing with third party insurance, I want to share with you 5 tricks to get your medicines quickly and cheaply:

  1. The price isn’t the price: You have the right to ask the pharmacist the exact cost of the medicine you want to purchase, both using your insurance, and without using your insurance. Sometimes the “cash price” is cheaper than the insurance price. Yeah, it’s insane. Some pharmacy chains find that it’s competitive to list their prices on www.GoodRx.com while others create iron-clad contracts with preferred insurance companies to lower the costs (hence why you may have to go to a big box pharmacy rather than the local one.) The key: ask. My suggestion: try to shop local if at all possible. The service is superb and they have a vested interest in keeping your patronage.

  2. The look of your medications will change: big chain pharmacies buy their medications in bulk. Similar to how the versions of apples change at the grocerty store, those bulk purchases can shift between whichever drug manufacturer gives the chain the best deal. Thus, if you want a particular version of your medicine, all you have to do is ask. Each version of every medicine has a special identifier called the “NDC number.” It’s a like a social security number for pills. Though all generics are supposed to be “bioequivalent” and work equally, that’s not always the case. My suggestion: ask the pharmacy to order the “NDC linked to the version that worked” and they can look in their system to see how they can order it.

  3. When does my controlled prescription expire? This is the biggest area of frustration for y’all and for us. Controlled prescriptions for Schedule 2 medications (all stimulants) expire 21 days after we submit them to the pharmacy (or hand date them on paper.) If you go to pick up the prescription on day 22, the pharmacist will sadly let you down; it’s a federal law. Controlled prescriptions for Schedule 4 medications (clonazepam, ativan, etc) expire 6 – 12 months from the date you write them (it can differ sometimes depending on which medicine is written.) For non-controlled prescriptions (pretty much everything else), the refill is good for a year…unless your medications are covered by certain forms of Medicaid (because they sometimes expire after 6 months). Controlled prescriptions across state lines is super tricky; some states (like California) won’t accept electronic controlled prescriptions from Texas. My suggestion: when in doubt, ask your physician or the pharmacist, PLAN AHEAD, then write it into your calendar.

  4. Electronic is the law: in Texas, we are now legally required to submit your prescriptions to the pharmacy of your choice. In fact, we need a waiver in order to give you a paper form. Why? Because one of the major issues that came out of the opioid epidemic and stimulant abuse was “diversion”: individuals using prescribed medications for unintended purposes (including giving them to others and selling them without a prescription.) Texas has joined a database company called PMP Aware (https://www.pharmacy.texas.gov/pmp/) and we can now track your controlled prescriptions. Texas legislators built in a clause that we have to manually check this database every time we issue a prescription for a controlled medication. Yes, it adds cost (staffing) and time (delays refills and correspondence requests) but we care greatly about your safety. My suggestion: let us know early (and repeatedly) which pharmacy you choose.

  5. Transfers are free! Any non-controlled medication can be transferred to any pharmacy at any time, for free! The key is to call the pharmacy where you WANT to pick up your prescription and give the pharmacist the required info: medication name, clinician, and name of the pharmacy that currently has the prescription. If you’re within the same chain, most of them can tap into that pharmacy’s files and “pull” the prescription to where you want to pick them up. My suggestion: Remember that pharmacies want your business. Use that to your advantage!

We hope this helps shed light on ways to save money, minimize frustration, and maneuver our overly complex pharmacy system. Pharmacies are businesses that do amazing work; knowing the rules and regulations will help make it a seamless experience (e.g. check your medications BEFORE you leave the pharmacy. Once a prescription physically leaves the pharmacy counter, they cannot legally take it back.)

At Mindful, we ask our patients for a 5 day “heads up” because as you can see, there’s a lot to juggle! For additional questions or concerns, log in to your OnPatient account, send us a HIPAA-friendly email (hello@findmindful.com) or give us a call! 682-200-1744. -bjd