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Serious savings for serious illnesses

When you're sick, you're probably not thinking about saving money. But even if it's a serious condition, you can save without sacrificing care.

By Stacy Johnson Jul 14, 2011 12:03PM

This post comes from Michael Koretzky at partner site Money Talks News.


Sometimes, it seems unseemly to save money. For instance, if you or a loved one has a serious or chronic illness, the last thing you want to be overheard asking the doctor is, "How can I cut down on my expenses here?"


But what if you can save money without jeopardizing medical care? A new CVS Caremark study by a team of researchers (including some from Harvard) says generic drugs can save a lot of cash when it comes to preventing and treating serious ailments.


The effectiveness of generic drugs is accepted by most physicians. However, another study earlier this year by the same researchers said that nearly a quarter of doctors are suspicious of generic drugs. Why? Maybe, the researchers suggested, because "75% said they receive their information from the pharmaceutical representatives." Those reps are obviously going to promote their higher-profit brand-name drugs over cheaper generics.


But this latest study is quite clear: "With more than 70% of health care costs in the U.S. spent treating patients who have one or more chronic disease, the researchers said generic medications are changing the economics of treating chronically ill patients."


Here's an example: Using brand-name drugs to lower the LDL (or bad) cholesterol costs $83,327 "per quality adjusted life year," which the study defines as "a financial measure that evaluates the impact of improving the quality of life for patients with chronic diseases." Using the generic equivalent? It costs $17,084, "or 20% of the original estimate."


"No matter who holds the financial risk -- the patient, employer, or government health plan -- using generic medications has to be a key part of managing treatment for chronically ill patients," says Dr. Troyen A. Brennan, one of the study's authors.


So what can you do?

  • If you are suffering from a serious or chronic condition, don't ask your doctor, "Can I get this in a generic?" Instead, be direct: "Is there a generic medication that treats this condition?" If his answer is yes, tell him you want that particular drug. (Remember, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration establishes the effectiveness and safety of generic drugs, just as it does for name-brand drugs.)
  • If your doctor isn't budging, get a second opinion -- perhaps from a younger doctor. The research team found in its earlier study: "Physicians 55 or older were 3.3 times more likely to have negative perceptions about generics than those between 25 and 34."
  • If you have a serious or chronic condition, go online and find a support group. There are groups for every condition, where sufferers offer support and share treatment tips -- which often include how to save money and deal with doctors.

Bottom line: When you or a loved one is ailing, the last thing on your mind might be saving money. But there are proven ways not only to stretch your health care dollars but also improve the quality of care. See more ideas below. 


More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:



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