Asthma treatment often costs thousands of dollars a year – more than many patients can afford. With brand-name controller drugs costing $200 per month, what’s a person to do?
Here are 8 tips for effective yet affordable treatment. Let’s begin with a story.
My sister, an asthma sufferer, once got a guinea pig for her son.
Loving mother that she is, she didn’t complain when, days later, she found she couldn’t breathe. Nor did she grumble when her medications stopped working. Nor did she fuss when her doctor put her on steroids and she gained thirty pounds.
Gasping and groaning, she did what mothers do, and cared for the guinea pig, day in and day out.
At Christmas she came for a visit. “Isn’t there anything to make my asthma better?” she implored.
“Get rid of the guinea pig,” I replied.
She looked at me as if I’d killed her firstborn. But six months later she put the guinea pig outside and – voila! – her asthma improved.
Yes, she learned a lesson – two in fact. Don’t put the guinea pig on the deck in July…
That’s #1. Substitute cat, dog, horse, rat, camel, etc. for guinea pig.
#2. Check online for coupons. You’re already online anyway. Zip on over to the we site for Proventil HFA, Ventolin HFA, Advair, Symbicort, or Singulair for hundreds of dollars in free samples and savings on refills
#3. Consider Ventolin ReliOn. If you’re paying full price for your albuterol, ask your doctor for this $9, 60-dose brand-name albuterol inhaler instead. True, it will take three of these to equal one standard albuterol inhaler, but still that’s only $27, half the price of a full-sized inhaler. Even insured patients may find this a savings – easily hundreds of dollars a year. It is currently only available through Wal-Mart and Target pharmacies.
#4. Patient Assistance Programs. If you’re uninsured, and make under $45,000 for a single person, or under $90,000 for a family of four, check out the Together Rx Acess program online. Asthma medications covered under this program include Advair, Azmacort, Serevent, and Flovent, for free or reduced cost, with potential savings of hundreds of dollars a year.
#5. Ask for medications on the $4 list. These include albuterol syrup, tablets, and nebulizer solution; ipratropium nebulizer solution, oral corticosteroids, and antibiotics. Discount chain pharmacies offer a long list of generic medications for only $4 a month, or $10 for three months. These could save you hundreds of dollars a year over name-brand drugs.
#6. Consider theophylline. Before inhaled steroids, before Singulair, before ipratropium, there was theophylline, the mainstay of asthma therapy. This medication is still available, is quite inexpensive, and is effective for many patients. There are drawbacks – drug interactions, need for periodic blood monitoring, jitteriness and nausea in some patients, concerns with overdose – BUT for patients on a budget it is a consideration, and can save hundreds of dollars a year over newer therapies.
#7. Have your doctor prescribe a nebulizer. Why would you spend $100 when you want to save money? Because the medication used in a nebulizer is so cheap. Both albuterol and ipratropium nebulizer solutions are on the $4 list, cheaper than hand-held metered-dose inhalers. Your doctor may not be aware of this, so be sure to bring it up. Substituting home nebulizer treatments for some doses of an inhaler may save you hundreds of dollars annually. You will still want to keep a rescue inhaler handy, however, for when you are not near your nebulizer.
#8. Stop at Starbucks. Drink a cup of coffee – not decaf. Caffeine is one of the metabolites of theophylline (#6 above), and has similar, though weaker, bronchodilator action. Caffeinated tea works as well. Many a time a midnight asthma attack has been ameliorated with a little java. This does not mean you shouldn’t have a rescue inhaler on hand. But if you’re stuck overnight in an airport and don’t have one with you, load up on caffeine. Save hundreds of dollars a year by stopping at McDonald’s for coffee instead.