An Action A-list for Getting the Best Medication


By Dr. Don Rose, Writer, Life Alert





When it comes to deciding between generic medications and brand name meds, the cheaper generic route is often the initial preference. After all, it seems logical to save money by buying the less expensive drug if the final result will be the same.

But is this always true? Is cheaper always better? A recent article in the Los Angeles newspaper Daily News addressed this issue, listing five “things to know to make sure you’re getting the best – not just the cheapest – medication for your needs.”

The five recommended actions to take are summarized and expanded on in the following Action List (or A-List):

Seek Answers to Your Questions

Don’t be shy about raising concerns or questions with your physician or other health professional. You don’t have to talk to them only when you are coming to see them, they can answer questions you may have between visits as well, via phone or even in some cases email. Getting their assistance is wise when it comes to medications, since they are much more likely to know the latest news or potential warnings about any medications.

The bottom line: “Talk to your doctor about the medication you’ve been prescribed and ask about alternatives or possible side effects. If you’ve been having good results with a particular drug, find out the potential pitfalls of switching.”

The Web can also be a great answer-resource (for example, at sites like or or the new Mahalo Answers service, and of course you can benefit from the 800 pound gorilla of search, If you, like many people, are unsure about the kinds of questions you wish to raise, you can also go online to read “tips from the National Council on Patient Information and Education, at”

Enlist an Assist from your Pharmacist

Consulting your pharmacist is a wise move. This medical professional deals with medications all day long and is an expert when it comes to both generic and name brand drugs. There are several useful things a good pharmacist can tell you -- for example, “where the drug was manufactured and by which company” as well as “if he or she has switched your brand-name drug for a generic.” The pharmacist can also “accommodate your preferences for one version or another.”

Be Informed about Insurance

You should always know the main ins and outs of your health insurance policy, and drug coverage is part of that. However, if you have questions or doubts about the medication coverage on your plan, “[a]sk your insurer for a copy of its formulary – a list of approved drugs – and make sure your medication is on there.”

What should you do if the drug you need is not included in your plan’s coverage? You can always leave your current insurance company and try another, but of course make sure the new one does have the drug coverage you need. If you cannot switch right now (for example, if your employer only allows switching during a certain period), or you don’t want to make such a big move, there are some “non-insurance” health plans out there that claim to offer additional coverage for a monthly fee – but be careful to read all fine print and try to get unbiased reviews of such companies before taking such a step.

Finally, make sure to check on “your co-payments before getting to the pharmacy” so there are no surprises when you actually buy the drug(s) you need.

If Refused Coverage, Ask “What’s Up, Doc?”

In cases where “your insurance company refuses to cover a prescription,” it can be a good move to “ask your doctor for help” since he or she can “work with you to find an alternative” and/or “appeal an insurer’s decision to deny your medication.”

Spread the Word about Problems

You should inform others if you experience problems such as “side effects or think a generic substitute isn’t working as well as the name brand.” Tell your doctor as well as your pharmacist if this is the case -- and if you want to go even further, “report the problem to the FDA’s MedWatch site,”

Final Thoughts

The five A-List action items above can help ensure that you are getting the best and safest meds, at the best price. Also, one would be wise to check into pharmacy promotions that save shoppers money; for example, some grocery and pharmacy chains offer incentives (typically a $25 or $30 giftcard) for transferring prescriptions.

Seniors who take multiple medications should also be careful to learn about potential harmful interactions among those drugs. Make sure to read and understand all med instructions. Consult your doctor and/or your pharmacist if you need to gather more information or ask questions.

Potential dangers caused by medications are just one type of risk we face as we get older. For example, seniors are more likely than younger adults to suffer a fall at home. To ensure one is protected against any emergency that may strike, a medical alert system like Life Alert is recommended. It can be a lifesaver, especially for seniors and the elderly who live alone. If you have Life Alert and experience an emergency, just press your medical alert pendant and Life Alert can summon immediate help for you any time, 24/7.

 “Is cheaper better?” by Renee Moilanen, article in Daily News Health section 2/26/09,


The article above is covered by a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 License. The information provided is, to the best of our knowledge, reliable and accurate. However, while Life Alert always strives to provide true, precise and consistent information, we cannot guarantee 100 percent accuracy. Readers are encouraged to review the original article, and use any resource links provided to gather more information before drawing conclusions and making decisions.


Dr. Don Rose writes books, papers and articles on computers, the Internet, AI, science and technology, and issues related to seniors.

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