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Smart Shoppers
8 shopping habits that will protect your benefits plan

Employee health benefits are under siege. The costs of prescription drugs and other medical services are already on the rise, and an aging population will only increase the demand on healthcare services of every sort.

Combined, these factors can lead to higher premiums or even force cash-strapped employers to slash benefits plans altogether.

But employees can protect their plans - and help to control related premiums - by adopting a few simple shopping habits.

Here are eight of the many shopping tips that have been compiled by the Callery Group:

  1. Ask your benefits consultant to identify a cost-effective pharmacy - The cost of a prescription includes the price of the drug, a pharmacist's mark-up, and a dispensing fee. And there can be big differences in the final totals. For example, the dispensing fees can vary from $3.89 to as much as $14.99 for an individual prescription, covering the costs of everything from stocking medication, to maintaining records and discussing treatment options.
  2. Stick to a recommended pharmacist - Every prescription will generate paperwork, and some of the related administrative tasks need to be repeated whenever you walk into a different drug store. But the advantages of a single file are not limited to lower dispensing fees. Any pharmacist who has the records for all of your prescriptions will be in a better position to protect you from potential side effects that can emerge when combining different medications.
  3. Follow the doctor's directions - Almost half of today's patients do not follow the directions for their prescriptions, even though many drugs like antibiotics need to be taken over a period of time to be effective. Unused medications are also prone to abuse. Almost one in five of the Grade 7 to 12 students questioned in the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey said it was "fairly easy" or "very easy" to obtain prescription opioid pain relievers without visiting a doctor. The unused and forgotten drugs in a family's medicine cabinet would be within easy reach.
  4. Take it one pill at a time - Side effects from approved medications are rare, but they can happen. Rather than filling an entire prescription for a drug that you are taking for the first time, pick up no more than a 10-day supply until you are sure that your body and medication are compatible. After all, any extra medication will be wasted or prone to abuse.
  5. Go generic - Every doctor has the option of recommending a brand name drug or its generic counterpart, and the price differences can be shocking. Generic drugs can cost 60% less than brand name offerings (www.choosinggenerics.ca). Sure, the generic drugs may be a slightly different in size, color, taste or shape, but the Canadian Food and Drug Act Regulations require them to have the same active ingredients and work the same way as the brand name drugs. By asking your doctor for a generic option, you can dramatically reduce the financial burden on your drug plan.
  6. Keep your doctor informed - Doctors can only recommend the right medication if they have all the information that they need. Be honest and open when describing any symptoms, and be sure to raise all of the related questions and concerns that you have. You may even have the chance to explore other treatment options that do not involve drugs at all.
  7. Discuss a dentist's plans for treatment before discussing your dental plan - A dentist should be treating your specific needs instead of maximizing the dollars available through a dental plan. After you decide on the dental procedures that are right for you, ask for a "pre-determination" - basically an estimate -- to see what your dental plan will cover.
  8. Review your receipts - Shady healthcare providers have been known to shift the cost of a procedure to someone else's bill, or charge for services that were never performed at all. Be sure to ask for detailed receipts that include exact amounts, descriptions of every treatment, and the date of the service. When it is time to visit the dentist, for example, ask how many scaling units are charged during each visit. Every scaling unit is equal to 15 minutes of service.
  9. Season's Greetings!

    Well, this is the last blog entry for 2012. It's hard to believe how quickly the year has passed! In the spirit of the season - and however you celebrate - let me take a moment to wish everyone a safe, healthy and happy holiday.

    Top Tips:

    • Be loyal to your pharmacy - Sticking to a recommended pharmacist can help to secure lower dispensing fees, and protect you from the unintended side effects caused by interacting medications.
    • Go generic - Ask your doctor to consider prescribing generic drugs, which have the same active ingredients as brand-name drugs.
    • Track your costs - Ask healthcare providers for detailed receipts which include descriptions of every treatment and the date of service. This will discourage fraudsters from applying someone else's costs to your benefits plan.

    Copyright Notice

    All rights reserved. All of the content herein is the sole property of the Callery Group, and may not be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in a retrieval system - in whole or in part - without the written permission of the Callery Group. Links to the originating article at www.callerygroup.com are permitted.

    The Buzz Bits
    Miscellaneous links to interesting benefits information

    Learn more about generic drugs: Mylan Pharmaceuticals

    Prescription drug abuse FAQs: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse

    Drug use among Ontario Students - 1977 to 2011: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

    Biologics and biosimilars ... a new complexity in the world of medicines: Benefits Canada

    Is a tiered formulary right for your clients?: Small Biz Advisor

Community Ethics, Big City Expertise

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