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FAQ: Prescription Drugs, Drug Costs and Medication Management

A mature female pharmacist in a hospital preparing to fill a patients prescription.

Nearly 70% of American adults take at least one prescription drug—for people over 65, this increases to nearly 90%. Prescription drugs can be essential to managing chronic conditions and keeping people well after a hospital stay—but a drug regimen can also be costly and confusing. 

"One of the main reasons people don’t fill prescriptions is the cost, especially at the start of a new year when their insurance deductible resets."

We spoke with Cedars-Sinai pharmacist Remy Hataishi about common medication questions, including how to lower the cost of your prescriptions, where it’s safe to buy medications and how to keep track of multiple medications.

How can Cedars-Sinai pharmacists help patients save money on prescription drugs?

Remy Hataishi: One of the main reasons people don’t fill prescriptions is the cost, especially at the start of a new year, when their insurance deductible resets. Cedars-Sinai’s outpatient pharmacy is part of a federal program that allows us to purchase medications at a reduced price, and we pass on the cost savings to patients who can’t afford their medications when they go home. 

We can also help patients get coupons and apply for copay savings cards. Sometimes pharmaceutical companies offer a once-in-a-lifetime one-month supply of a drug at no cost, which can really help patients when they have a gap in insurance or they’re going through hardships that make it hard to afford their copay. 

What are other reasons to fill a prescription at Cedars-Sinai before leaving the hospital?

RH: Our pharmacy eliminates a lot of the barriers people experience when filling medications at an outside pharmacy. If a doctor prescribes a medication that isn’t covered by a patient’s insurance, we can readily contact that doctor to get the prescription changed to something that is covered. We have access to patients’ charts, so we can see their lab work to make sure they’re being prescribed the correct dose of a drug. We can also see which medications they were on prior to admission so we can assure any new medication won’t interact with their existing medications. 

We can also help with the prior authorization process, when insurance companies review certain prescriptions before they allow us to fill them. That can take a few days, making it more likely a patient will be lost in limbo and never get the drug they need. We have a dedicated team who can initiate prior authorization as soon as the doctor orders a discharge prescription. Such medications are often very costly and very important—so we try to eliminate any gap in care.

Is it safe to buy prescriptions online?

RH: Online pharmacies that offer prescriptions at a discounted price are becoming more popular; when reputable and verified, this is safe. But patients should not try to save money by ordering prescriptions online from other countries. 

Some medications that require a prescription in the U.S. might be sold over the counter elsewhere—which is not safe. There are online tools that can help patients save money by finding reliable local pharmacies that offer the drug they need for a discounted price. 

How can people keep track of multiple medications?

RH: A day-of-the-week pillbox is an old but very helpful tool, especially for medications that are to be taken only on certain days or at certain times. It’s important to have an up-to-date list of your medications, whether it’s recorded in a computer document or on My CS-Link. Often, older patients are on several medications that they don’t need to be on or they’re taking more than they need to because they’ve been prescribed the same thing by multiple doctors. But if their medication list isn’t current, a pharmacist can’t help evaluate that. 

Through our Medication Therapy Management program, pharmacy staff make outreach calls to patients, many of whom are 65 or older, to them help update their medications. We can also answer any lingering questions they might have about new medications.

How else can pharmacists help patients with medication questions?

RH: Pharmacists and pharmacy personnel are very accessible to the public. If you have any questions about your current meds, or even if you have health concerns and you’re wondering whether you could be treated with something over the counter, pharmacists can help. We’re trained to know when certain symptoms need to be treated at urgent care or the Emergency Department. Patients can call even if they don’t get their medications from us. 

Cedars-Sinai pharmacists are available to take patient phone calls Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 310-423-1400.