Cheaper Prescriptions

And the prices are formidable. One-third of low-income seniors spend at least $100 a month on medications.

Susannah Dodson and her husband, John, both have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Between them, they take at least a dozen prescription medications every day and more when allergies, arthritis, or back pain flares up.

Susannah Dodson, diabetes patient, says "Last year we spent approximately $3,000 in prescription drugs. That doesn't count the insurance costs for Medicare or for our drug prescription program."

The Dodson's would be paying even more if they hadn't used Consumer Reports' free online service, 'Best Buy Drugs.'

Consumer Reports health editor, Ronni Sandroff, says the site now has recommendations for 35 conditions, including asthma and insomnia.

Sandroff says "We work with a team of medical researchers to identify prescription drugs that are safe, effective, and available at a lower cost."

The savings can be substantial.

For high cholesterol, instead of Lipitor at $98 a month, Best Buy Drugs says Lovastatin at $34 would be better choice for many people. That's a savings of nearly $800 a year.

For type 2 diabetes, instead of Actos for $151 a month, Best Buy Drugs recommends starting with Metformin, an older medication that costs $42, for a savings of more than $1,300 a year.

Consumer Reports says if your doctor offers you free samples of a prescription drug, you should be wary. Those free samples usually come from the drug companies to promote their newest brand-name drugs, so check with your doctor if there might be another choice that's better and less expensive.

Sandroff says "Often older drugs are as good as or even better than newer drugs. They've been taken by millions of people, so usually we have a better idea of their long-term safety."

As for the Dodson's, after they consulted Best Buy Drugs, their doctor agreed it made sense to switch to a less expensive, generic drug for one of their medications. Consumer Reports' Free Online Service, Best Buy Drugs

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