Paying for Asthma Medications: The Price of Being Wheezy

Claire N. Saunders
Jan 23 · 5 min read

Originally published at www.clairensaunders.com.

A few weeks ago, I was Facetiming one of my best friends from college. She had recently gotten married and is also in grad school, so our conversation jumped from wedding stuff to the mutual mundaneness and craziness of grad student life. Whenever we talk, our sig figs (my own vernacular for significant others) occasionally insert themselves into the most interesting parts of our conversations. Somewhere along the way, my BFF started discussing the five million medications I am taking daily to manage my asthma. This is where her husband, an engineer and fellow asthmatic, joined the conversation and started asking about my fluticasone propionate/salmeterol inhaler. He told me how he stopped taking his fluticasone propionate/salmeterol inhaler because his monthly copays were wicked expensive, even with the health insurance from what my BFF and I call his “big kid job.”

This wasn’t the first time I had heard this story. In the United States, asthma inhalers are incredibly costly, and everybody knows it. In 2013, Elisabeth Rosenthal published an op-ed in the New York Times aptly titled The Soaring Cost of a Simple Breath which detailed a number of reasons why Americans are paying through the nose per puff. I highly recommend reading Rosenthal’s piece or the dozens of pieces that further examine the mechanisms by which inhalers are priced. In the meantime, I want to talk about the one thing Rosenthal’s piece doesn’t: how to make asthma medications more affordable.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with or sponsored by any of the products or services I mention in this post. Everything I say here are simply my own thoughts and opinions. None of this is medical advise.

Copy Cats

My timing has always been impeccable. I hate to brag, but it is true. Back in 2017, I was one of the last flights out of the Atlanta airport before that huge power outage. Another time, I outran a small tornado by about 30 seconds in my little VW Beetle. Even more lucky than that, I didn’t develop asthma until my 20s right around the time when copy cat medications like AirDuo RespiClick came on the market. AirDuo is not a generic substitution for Advair, but contains the same medication. Fully substitutable generics get a little trickier because of patents on asthma inhalers. When you are talking to your doctor about your inhalers, it never hurts to ask if they know of a cheaper option.

Coupons & Copay Cards

I recently discovered coupons for my asthma inhalers when I was looking for information about side effects I was having from one of my inhalers (real riveting stuff, I know). The coupons I found are on the drug companies’ websites for their specific medications. I am including links to coupons for some popular inhalers. I found these by word of mouth and googling the medication name with the word ‘coupon’ (Genius, I know). You wouldn’t shop online without looking for promo codes (at least I wouldn’t), why wouldn’t you do the same with your medications? Some of the links below for copay cards, so mileage may vary depending on your insurance.

Last updated : January 21st, 2019

Another resource I love is GoodRx. They tell you where to find any medication at the cheapest price and have their own discount card. Sometimes, their discount can be even better than your insurance coverage.

Copayment Assistance Programs

Technically, what I am going to say here could be grouped into the previous section, Coupons & Copay Cards. However, I wanted to find a way to split up inhalers and the new biologic drugs like Xolair, Nucala, Fasenra, Cinqair, and Dupixent. While some inhalers can cost about $500 a month, these drugs are closer to $3,000 a month, even with insurance. Thankfully, there are copayment assistance programs for these medications that will cover your insurance copayment up to a certain amount per year if you meet the listed criteria. Here is my list of those programs (again, not necessarily all-inclusive but I will try to keep it up to date):

Last updated : January 21st, 2019

Your Doctor

Plot twist: your asthma doctor, or whoever is prescribing you all these inhalers or injections, actually wants you to be healthy. Another plot twist: taking your medications as prescribed by your doctor is a big part of being healthy. If you are having difficulty affording your medications for a period of time, they might be able to tide you over with some of the samples that they receive from drug reps. If they prescribe something that you know you can’t afford, let them know. Asthma medications are expensive, but there are ways to work the system to make it more affordable. Your doctor wants you to breathe easy. You just have to ask.

I’ll try to add to the resources I mentioned in this post and keep them as up-to-date as possible on my blog: www.clairensaunders.com/blog

Claire N. Saunders

Written by

scientist | educator | speaker | www.clairensaunders.com

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