By our mid-sixties, we probably have at least one medication we take every day – and will for the rest of our lives. Those are called ‘maintenance’ medications. (Other pills may deal with specific short-term issues.) Few of us will not have a reason to go to the pharmacy to pick up medicine each month.
We get dressed, get in the car and drive to the drugstore. Then we either wait in line at the pharmacy to pick up a prescription or wait in the car at the slow drive-thru window service. That’s no one’s idea of fun. Prescription delivery services were invented to make those trips a distant memory. We sign up once with a service, either online or by phone, and the medications appear in our mailbox or on our doorstep each month until we tell them to stop. Like magic!
Most seniors will be on some form of Medicare health care, with an integrated or separate plan that covers the cost of drugs. If anything, the senior is left with a copay to pay. Individual policies also stipulate if a particular prescription delivery service is available under that plan. By following the sign-up instructions, setting up payment and connecting our prescribing doctor with the prescription service, we have just automated our monthly solution.
Depending on the service, medications may be delivered by the U.S. Postal Service and will show up in your mailbox in safe, neutral packaging. Other services might use FedEx or UPS, and still others may have their own delivery teams.
The important factors are that you get your medications on time, at a good price and as conveniently as possible. These are the factors we will be looking at further.
If you are on maintenance medications, it means you are dealing with a health issue. It may be as benign as high-blood pressure medication that is more preventive than anything. At the other extreme, it could be related to full-blown diabetes, cardiac issues or another chronic condition that has left you weakened and unable to go to the pharmacy at all. Without a prescription delivery service, each month you would have to figure out how you would be sure you had the medications you needed.
A good delivery service provides a series of benefits, including:
- Lowering stress levels about knowing you will have the medicines you need when you need them;
- Refilling automatically in 30- or 90-day cycles so you don’t have to remember;
- Often contacting doctors before prescriptions run out, to renew if appropriate;
- Offering free standard shipping, with optional 2-day or overnight options if needed; and
- Setting up ongoing payment arrangements to simplify monthly transactions.
In selecting a prescription delivery service, you want to know what the ultimate cost is to you for the medication, that is, the copay you will have to pay. Next, you want to know if there is any contractual obligation, how much notice you need to give if you want to discontinue the service and if there are any fees to do so. Lastly, you want to know how easy it is to reach someone regarding the service: how many different means are available to you and what are their hours?
Also, you want to know what the shipping fee is, how long it takes before you receive your medication, if they refill prescriptions automatically and how many different ways are there to pay.
Big chain drugstores almost all offer prescription delivery services, and you may already be purchasing your medications through one of them. Other companies have been set up expressly to offer this service. Your insurance plan may limit who you can use for this service, or you may be able to shop around for the best solution for you.
Services may be more hands-on or hands-off. In some cases, your doctor may process the prescription electronically to the pharmacy, eliminating the need for you to call, go online or register by mail, except to set up your payment arrangements. In others, you need to obtain and send copies of prescriptions, then set up the service yourself, either online or by phone. Some services don’t even refill prescriptions automatically, and you will have to call monthly to request a delivery.
You want to assess your situation honestly: what can you do and what do you want to do, so you are sure you have the medications you need based on the delivery service options available to you,
Two areas differentiate what seniors prioritize from what others do: age-friendliness and health-related value.
Regarding age-friendliness, as you drive less and less, you want to know you have a service that will get you your critical medications reliably. If they haven’t arrived a few days before you run out, they need to have a way to get them to you overnight. Your interaction with the company, whenever needed, should be easy, whether through a mobile app on your smartphone early on, an online portal on your computer or a simple telephone call when those devices feel complicated. Round-the-clock access is ideal, in case you think about your medication at 3 a.m. and want to know for sure it is on its way.
As for health-related value, four out of five seniors living at home are said to be dealing with some chronic health condition. The service, in general, has intrinsic value to many people, especially as health declines to the point of no longer leaving the house easily. However, if that chronic condition is coupled with memory loss or forgetfulness as a result of taking certain medications or extreme pain, getting the mail may not be a daily activity. The mailbox could fill to overflowing and medications be left where they could be stolen. Services using FedEx or UPS may then be preferable.
The fee structure for prescription delivery services is very straightforward. As long as your medications are covered by an insurance plan, your payment will only be the cost of the copay. Beyond that, most services offer standard delivery for free (as well as optional up charges for faster delivery).
Some services will deliver prescriptions that are for ‘self-pay’ customers, too. In this case, it is critical that you call around and confirm the cost of the prescription itself, as the price can vary dramatically from one source to another.
Prescription delivery services are not very complicated and are therefore easy to evaluate. Your decision will consider a combination of these factors: the price you will pay for the medication, whether you have to lock yourself into a contract, how easy it is to extricate yourself if you want to change services for some reason and how well the company is going to support you. That’s it.
Price: The price of these services is basically the copay your insurance requires for the medication. Some services might offer some extra savings, but the medication itself is being paid for by your insurance company.
Contract obligation: None of the prescription delivery services seem to require a contract from you. The only factor holding you with one company is the hassle and inconvenience of changing to another. You have to time the changeover correctly to be sure you have the medications you need. However, if the service has let you down somehow, that will be ample motivation to change.
Cancellation: As for canceling, the only factor is how much notice you might need to give to a service to do so, that is, where in the cycle you have to let them know, so they don’t have another delivery in the process. These delays are typically between 5-10 days.
Customer Service: This is an important factor. Because you are dealing with your medications which, in some cases, may be life-giving, you want to have easy access to a live representative to be able to track or confirm orders, regardless of time of day. Access should be available through various paths, such as phone, email, chat and maybe a mobile app. Ideally, phone access would be 24/7/365, and the technology behind the service would allow representatives to be responsive to you, with full information about your account.
With the growth in the Baby Boomer demographic and the increasing number of maintenance medications they are being prescribed, the prescription delivery service is booming. Some are even hinting that Amazon might decide to move into this $450 billion-per-year U.S. pharmaceutical market. About one quarter of that market is already being delivered through mail order, which is what prescription delivery systems are considered to be.
The major downside with these services is that you lose face-to-face access to a pharmacist, something many seniors value highly. Being able to discuss the correct use of their medication is reassuring.
Many of us remember pharmacies making home deliveries when we were growing up. Regarding prescription delivery services, independent pharmacies remind us that they have provided same-day home deliveries for decades. The only important thing if you use one is to be sure of the copay you will need to pay and, if you are a ‘self pay’ customer, that the cost of the medication itself is the best you can find.
For some reason, when it comes to medications people are less likely to comparison shop. In fact, in one study only 17 percent reported doing so. If money is an issue and you have the energy to do so, you might want to call different types of suppliers (big-box retailers, supermarkets, Costco, chain drugstores and independent pharmacies) to price your maintenance medications. Also, while we don’t think of it, nothing keeps you from asking for a discount. You just might find your medicine can cost less than the copay on your insurance, and that supplier might even deliver for free.