The COVID-19 pandemic has made life more difficult for almost everyone, but some have been hit harder than others. For example, more than 20.5 million people have lost their jobs during the pandemic, usually because of decreased sales. And while being unemployed during a pandemic would be frightening for anyone, it poses unique challenges for people with chronic pain. But it is especially hard when you are looking for medication without insurance.
If you have chronic pain, there’s a fair chance that you take prescription medication as part of your pain management plan. But what are you to do when you’ve suddenly lost your health insurance? Going without is not an option for many people, which means you have to find alternative ways to access prescription medications without breaking the bank during an already-difficult time.
I want to share ways that people with chronic pain and disabilities can get access to vital medication, even without health insurance.
1. Switch Providers
If you’re lucky, you might have several months of your prescription that you can continue to use without visiting a doctor’s office. But if you’re less fortunate, you might need to find a new way to get your prescription. This can prove doubly difficult if you’ve been prescribed opioids, since doctors may feel pressure not to prescribe these pain relievers, even if you’ve safely taken them for years.
Try getting an appointment at your local free clinic. The lines may be long, but you should at least be able to pay for the visit on a sliding scale, which can give you the chance you need to receive a new prescription. Make sure to bring any relevant medical records with you, particularly if you’re trying to receive opioids. This can simplify the process and make your provider more likely to see your need for medication as genuine.
When you go to your local clinic, be upfront with your provider that you do not have insurance. You are not the first patient they’ve seen who needs to save money, and they may be able to prescribe you a generic alternative that can save you money at the pharmacy.
If that doesn’t work, try contacting your local United Way chapter. They may be able to put you in touch with someone who’s affordable and known for working with patients with chronic pain. The unfortunate fact is that your experience will depend on what provider you get, but if you need a prescription, asking for the United Way’s advice can be a way to find a prescriber who’s within your budget.
2. Try GoodRX
Once you’ve got your prescription, try downloading GoodRX. Their base plan is free, and you can pay a few dollars a month for their GoodRX Gold membership. The paid version offers slightly better prices and is more convenient, but if you’re really pinching your pennies right now (as many of us are), the free version should be more than fine.
You can look up your specific prescription with GoodRX and see your new cost; often, this will be hundreds of dollars less. In some cases, GoodRX prices are even better than what you’ll get from commercial insurance!
Of course, GoodRX doesn’t cover everything. If your medication is still too expensive, you can try calling your health care provider and asking them to prescribe an equal alternative. Most prescribers understand that prescription prices are exorbitant, so they should be happy to help you save money and keep yourself healthy.
3. Shop Around for Pharmacies
Did you know that your medication cost can vary depending on where you have the prescription filled? Two pharmacies across the street from each other could offer significantly different prices, so there’s a lot to gain by shopping around before you send your prescription anywhere.
GoodRX comes in handy here once again; when you look up a medication, it will list different prices for different pharmacies. Use this handy tool to save money as you seek pain medications without insurance.
4. Try Coupons for Name Brands
Most of the time, generic prescriptions are much cheaper than name brand. But if for some reason you can’t access generic medications, you may be able to save some money while accessing name brand drugs.
Look up the manufacturer of your prescription (you can find this information online) and see if they are offering any coupons or deals on your medication. Some manufacturers even have patient assistance programs that work with underinsured people to help make medication more affordable. This method is far from guaranteed, but if you’ve tried everything else, then this could be a good way to save money and keep your pain in check.
5. Consider Pill Splitting—Maybe
If worse comes to worst, you may have to stretch out your prescription. For some medications, individuals will cut pills in half and take half doses instead. In some cases, this works out alright and the individual barely notices a difference. In other cases, however, this can fail to adequately treat pain or lead to further problems, so you should always consult with a physician before splitting your pills.
If your provider approves, this can be another way to make medications last, even if you can successfully get a new prescription. Prices can be high without insurance, so stretching out your doses is an option that will make each prescription last longer and thus save you money.
6. Consider Alternative Pain Management Strategies
If there is simply no way for you to get your medication, or if you need additional support, there are always other ways to manage your pain. “Eat right and exercise” is tired advice that can ignore the realities of life with pain, but that doesn’t mean you’re completely helpless.
For example, meditation can help relax your muscles, which can ease certain types of chronic pain. If you’re not one for quiet contemplation, that’s fine, just do something that makes you completely relaxed, like a favorite hobby.
Alternatively, you could focus on avoiding certain substances that worsen pain. Drinking frequently can be tempting, especially if you’re unemployed with chronic pain, but it can only worsen your situation. Pain already makes it hard to sleep, and without proper sleep, your body won’t function optimally. Alcohol can exacerbate this issue and lead to lower-quality sleep, so try to keep the drinking to a minimum if you’re looking for ways to ease your pain without medication.
None of this is to suggest that pain medication is superfluous or unnecessary. But when you can’t get the medication that you need, looking for alternatives can be a great way to retain control of your situation and minimize pain as much as possible. This is undeniably a rough situation, but you can still take steps to keep yourself as comfortable and healthy as possible.
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