Folks are no longer surprised when outrageous drug prices make the news.
Remember the $600 EpiPens?
We got less expensive alternatives after folks complained and there was a lot of media attention, but many other drugs are still expensive.
Did you know that there is a diaper rash cream on the market that costs over $600? What’s startling, is that the cream, Vusion, is simply made up of three ingredients that are available over the counter – miconazole (an antifungal drug), zinc oxide, and petroleum jelly.
There is also a pill for pinworms, Emverm, that costs $600!
Saving Money on Pediatric Prescriptions
There is one very easy way to save money on your next pediatric prescription.
That’s right, make sure your child really needs it.
No, that doesn’t mean not filling your pediatrician’s prescription, but it can mean simply asking if a prescription medication is really necessary the next time your kids get sick. Unfortunately, many conditions are over-treated, from ear and sinus infections to pink eye and reflux.
Also, when your child does need a prescription, instead of asking for a coupon, ask if a lower cost, generic alternative might be appropriate.
You can also:
- make sure the medication is covered by your drug plan, if you have one
- get a 90 day supply if it is a medication that your child uses long-term, like to control asthma
- ask about optimizing your child’s dose so that they don’t need multiple pills, for example, taking one 30mg capsule is likely less expensive than taking two 15mg capsules each day
- see if an alternative form of the same medication might be less expensive. For example, a tube of mupirocin (Bactroban) cream is a lot more expensive than a tube of mupirocin ointment, although both forms of the topical antibiotic can be used in the same situations. Similarly, ondansetron (Zofran) syrup is more expensive than ondansetron orally disintegrating tablets, which is often used when kids have nausea and vomiting.
To save money on prescriptions, you might also use a service like GoodRx, to search for the lowest prices at nearby pharmacies. Especially if you have a high deductible or if a medicine isn’t covered by your insurance, it can sometimes be cheaper to use GoodRx, or a similar service with discount cards, than to go through your insurance plan. And remember that some pharmacies, like at Walmart, offer many $4 generic drugs.
Lastly, ask your pediatrician for samples and go through the manufacturer’s patient assistance plan for help paying for your medicines.
Prescribe These Inexpensive Medications, Not Tho$e
Still can’t afford your child’s prescription?
Fortunately, there is almost always an alternative medication that is less expensive, but will work just as well, that you can ask your pediatrician about. It doesn’t do your child any good if your pediatrician prescribes a medication, but you don’t get it because you can’t afford it. Ask about an alternative instead.
In general, if you need a coupon to get the drug, you can expect that it is an expensive medication. And even if the coupon makes it affordable for you, remember that someone is still paying for it, and in the end, that’s likely going to be you in the form of higher insurance rates.
Will any of these alternatives work for your child?
|Expensive Drug||Less Expensive Alternative*|
|Vusion (diaper rashes)||use Lotrimin + Triple Paste|
|Advair, Dulera, Symbicort (asthma)||generic AirDuo1|
|Moxeza or Vigamox (pink eye)||ofloxacin oph drops2|
|Auvi-Q (epineprine inj)||generic Adrenaclick or EpiPen3|
|Emverm (pinworms)||Reese’s Pinworm Medicine (OTC)|
|Omnaris, QNasl, Veramyst (allergies)||generic Flonase (fluticasone propionate) or Nasacort (triamcinolone) (OTC)|
|Suprax (UTI)||trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole or Cefdinir4|
|Suprax (ear infection)||high dose amoxicillin or Augmentin or Cefdinir|
|Ciprodex, Cipro HC (ear drops)||ofloxacin oph drops5|
|Vyvanse, Mydayis (ADHD)||generic Adderall XR or Adderal6|
|Aptensio, Cotempla XR-ODT, Daytrana, QuilliChew ER & Quillivant XR (ADHD)||generic Concerta or Ritalin6|
|EpiDuo, Ziana (acne)||benzoyl peroxide/clindamycin
or Differin (OTC)
|Solodyn, Doryx (acne)||minocycline, doxycycline
|Sklice, Ulesfia (lice)||spinosad (Natroba) or an OTC treatment|
|Nexium (GERD)||lansoprazole (Prevacid)7 OTC|
|Cutivate, Elocon, Topicort (eczema)||triamcinolone 0.1% cream|
|Clarinex (allergies)||loratadine (Claritin)8 OTC|
|Xyzal (allergies)||cetirizine (Zyrtec)8 OTC|
|levalbuterol (Xopenex) (asthma)||albuterol8|
|Patanol, Pataday, Pazeo (allergies)||Zaditor9 (OTC)|
*To be clear though, these aren’t direct brand name to generic equivalents. Most are less expensive alternative medications that many pediatricians use every day though. Many were once the primary treatment and were found to work well. They were eventually replaced by newer medications, which were thought to work better, even though there are rarely head-to-head studies that actually prove that they work better than older, now less expensive medicines.
- AirDuo – this is a generic preventative asthma inhaler, which like Advair, combines fluticasone propionate and salmeterol. The main downside? It can’t be used with a spacer.
- Before looking for lower cost antibiotic eye drops to treat pink eye, you should maybe reconsider the need to treat pink eye in the first place. Most experts now think that pink eye is usually a viral infection, and even when it is caused by a bacteria, unless it is severe, it will likely go away without treatment. Most importantly, keep in mind that according to the AAP, “exclusion is no longer required” for kids with pink eye if they are in daycare or school, which is often why many parents seek treatment in the first place.
- Epinephrine injectors are lifesaving medicines for kids with food allergies. They were one of the first medicines to expose how drug coupons helped drug prices soar (the $600 EpiPens), while parents got free medicines for their kids – at least if they had insurance and a co-pay to worry about. Those paying cash or who had a high deductible plan were stuck with high priced drugs. Less expensive epinephrine injectors are now available, but one of the most expensive medicines on our list is back – Auvi-Q. Although the manufacturer advertises that it is available for just $0 for commercially insured patients, each injector pack (comes with 2 injectors and a trainer) actually costs up to $2,500! And since it is recommended that kids have multiple injector packs to store in multiple places, the real price is at least $5,000.
- Suprax (cefixime) was once a popular antibiotic for UTIs, especially once it became generic. Then, because it was maybe not popular enough, they stopped making it. It came back though, but not with a generic price tag. Some push it as a better choice for kids with persistent ear infections, but keep in mind that when mentioned on the list of antibiotics in the AAP ear infection treatment guide, it is suggested that when multiple antibiotics have failed, “a course of clindamycin may be used, with or without an antibiotic that covers nontypeable H influenzae and M catarrhalis, such as cefdinir, cefixime, or cefuroxime.” There is likely no benefit to using Suprax by itself or over a less expensive antibiotic.
- Can you really use ofloxacin ophthalmic drops in a child’s ear? Yes, although it is an off-label treatment. You just can’t use otic (ear) drops in a child’s eyes. While eye drops are sterile, ear drops aren’t. And for some reason, eye drops are less expensive than ear drops.
- Most newer, once a day ADHD medicines are expensive. Some aren’t even covered on insurance plans. Generic medicines are going to be less expensive than newer brand name medicines and short acting stimulants, like Adderall and Ritalin, are the cheapest. Your child just has to take a repeat dose around lunch time.
- In many ways, we have come a long way in treating infants with reflux. Gone are the days of using medicines with dangerous side effects, like Propulsid (cisapride) and Reglan (Metoclopramide). Now, if they have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), they are usually treated with an antisecretory agent to reduce acid and pain, but not necessary reduce the amount of spitting up. This can include histamine H2 receptor antagonists, like Zantac (ranitidine), and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). Before Nexium packets for delayed release oral suspension became available, we had Prevacid Solutabs, which are now available OTC. This would be an off-label treatment.
- Clarinex and Xyzal are new classes of medications that turn a drug made up of a racemic mixture (Claritin and Zyrtec) into a single enatiomer. Basically, these drugs are made up of two mirror images of themselves. The theory is that if you make a new drug with just one of those mirror images, then it will work better and cause less side effects. For the great majority of people, these new drugs just cost more. Xopenex was one of the first drugs to use this method, as it is just the R-enantiomer or isomer of albuterol = levalbuterol. Does it work better than albuterol? No. Some people do think that it has fewer side effects, so it might be worth a try if your child gets very jittery or gets an elevated heart rate when he takes albuterol.
- Why try an over-the-counter medicine when prescription medications are available? Many medicines that are now over-the-counter, from Allegra and Claritin to Flonase and Nasacort, used to only be available with a prescription. Like these and many more medications, Zaditor allergy eye drops was once a prescription drug. It is available for kids who are at least three years old and might be worth a try before you spend money on a more expensive allergy eye drop.
In general, just remember that the “latest and greatest” medication isn’t always the greatest. Sometimes it is just newer and more expensive. Don’t be afraid to ask about an alternative if it is too expensive.
What to Know About Saving Money on Pediatric Prescriptions
Medications can be expensive, but there are things you can do to try and save money the next time your kids get a prescription from their pediatrician.
More on Saving Money on Pediatric Prescriptions
- Health care costs: Prescription medications
- In Rube Goldberg Price Scheme, EpiPen Competitor Auvi-Q To Be Free For Patients, $4,500 For Their Insurers
- Why Your Pharmacist Can’t Tell You That $20 Prescription Could Cost Only $8
- Pharmacy Price Index
- When Drugs Cost Too Much
- How Companies Price Drugs
- MDs Say US Costs For Valeant’s Lead Poisoning Drug Are 33,000% More Than Canada’s
- Little Pricey Pill
- How Two Common Medications Became One $455 Million Specialty Pill
- Chiral Switch Drugs for Asthma and Allergies: True Benefit or Marketing Hype
- Meet the new drugs, same as the old drugs?
- In The War Against High Drug Prices, Some Patients Are Collateral Damage
- Generic Drugs: Are they Equivalent?
- The Pollyanna Phenomenon and Non-Inferiority: How Our Experience (and Research) Can Lead to Poor Treatment Choices
- Pinworm Treatments Are an Expensive Drug Mistake You Don’t Need to Make
- Separating Fact from Fiction in Pediatric Medicine: Infant Gastroesophageal Reflux
- AAP – The Diagnosis and Management of Acute Otitis Media
- When Do You Need Antibiotics for Pink Eye?
- Conjunctivitis: Can antibiotics help?
- AAP – Pink eye
- Epinephrine Options and Training
Last Updated on March 22, 2018 by Vincent Iannelli, MD