4 things you didn’t know your doctor could do

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Published March 12, 2014

| NerdWallet

1. Give you free medication samples

Pharmaceutical companies often give doctors samples of drugs, and your doctor will likely be more than happy to share these with you. One 2004 study reported that the average physician received $21,000 per year in samples from pharmaceutical companies. Depending on your type of insurance plan and deductible, prescription medications may cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars—and confiding in your doctor will help him or her to understand not only which medications you need, but which ones you can afford. Chances are, your doctor would rather you admit that you cannot afford a medication—and then help you to find a workaround—than not take the medication prescribed to you.

You may be able to use free samples of a more expensive medication in combination with a cheaper generic, but consult with your doctor before doing so. If you’re unsure how a new medication will work or if you might react negatively, ask your doctor for samples first. Doing so could help you to avoid purchasing a large amount of medication that you end up not using.

READ MORE: Which Type of Health Insurance Should I Get?

2.  Negotiate on your behalf with insurance companies

Your physician may be able to help you with negotiating your medical bills. Take, for example, prescription medications. Every health insurance plan has a drug formulary, or list of drugs that are automatically approved to be covered based on safety, efficacy and cost-effectiveness . Non-formulary drugs are sometimes covered as well, but may require a conversation with your insurance company. Your doctor can act as leverage in convincing your insurance company that the non-formulary drug provides additional benefit beyond the formulary version. In any negotiation, ask your doctor to advocate for the medical necessity of the treatment(s) you are negotiating.

If you’re negotiating a hospital bill, research the average charge for your procedure at the hospital you went to. Many times doctors will not know what procedures cost, so between your knowledge of pricing and their clinical insight, you’ll be well prepared to start negotiating.

READ MORE: NerdWallet's Tips to Negotiate Your Medical Bills

3. Help you apply for prescription assistance programs

Many drug companies offer patient assistance programs that can lower the cost of your prescriptions—or sometimes allow you to get them for free. This will often require you to provide proof of income  and submit an application, but soliciting your doctor’s help can help to remove some of the confusion that may arise in the application process. Fill out the parts of the application that you can on your own, so you know which sections you will need assistance with.

In addition, your doctor might know of other programs  that offer assistance paying for medications, and can refer you in the right direction. In general, eligibility  for these programs includes being a U.S. citizen or legal resident, having no prescription insurance coverage and having an income of less than 200% of the federal poverty level, which in 2014 comes to  $23,340 for an individual and $47,700 for a family of four.

4. Prescribe higher doses of medications

Medications that are twice as strong are not necessarily twice the price—which represents a big opportunity to save. If this is the case (you can check with your pharmacy about pricing for different dosages), consult with your doctor to see if splitting your pills might be a good option. If it is, and he or she prescribes you a higher dose, you will wind up using half the amount of pills while still receiving the same amount of active ingredient.

Be aware that pill splitting isn’t a possibility for all drugs. For example , coated pills often have a center that irritates the stomach, so you won’t want to cut one of these in half. Long-acting or time-release pills are not conducive to splitting either, and doing so could effectively lead to an overdose of the drug since cutting the pill destroys the time-release effect. Drugs that are commonly split include statins, antidepressants, ACE-inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers.

Napala Pratini writes for NerdWallet Health, a website that empowers consumers to find high quality, affordable health care and insurance.

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