What you need to know about your health insurance benefits – National Consumers League

stethoscope_heart_92.jpgIt’s no secret that choosing a health insurance plan isn’t as easy as ordering at a restaurant. Even after purchasing a plan, actually understanding what exactly you’ve purchased is yet another stressful task. Health insurance can confuse even the savviest consumers. Read on for a few tips every consumer should know when it comes to health insurance benefits.

Your health plan most likely offers essential health benefits.

All plans purchased through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace and the majority of health plans provided by employers are required to provide a core group of medical services called essential health benefits. These services include:

  • Ambulatory patient services
  • Emergency services
  • Hospitalization
  • Pregnancy, maternity, and newborn care 
  • Mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment
  • Prescription drugs
  • Rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices
  • Laboratory services
  • Preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management
  • Pediatric services, including oral and vision care

To find the full list of services your plan covers and how much those services cost, check your Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC). You can request a copy of this document through your insurance company or access it via your online account through your insurance provider’s website.

Staying in network will save you money.

Visits to health care providers or facilities within your plan’s network are generally much cheaper than visits to out-of-network providers or facilities. The type of insurance policy you have plays a role in who participates in your plan’s network and how much you will pay if you choose to visit an out-of-network provider not covered by your plan. For example, HMO (Health Maintenance Organization) plans require you to select one primary care physician who will coordinate all of your health care services. With this plan, out-of-network providers are typically not covered at all, expect for true medical emergencies.

On the other hand, PPO (Preferred Provider Organization) plans allow you to visit any provider or specialist, in-network or out-of-network, and without a referral. Though your PPO plan may cover your out-of-network visit, you will pay more out-of-pocket for those services. Regardless of the type of plan you enroll in, be mindful of the providers in your network, as it can have a huge effect on your out-of-pocket costs.

All qualified health plans have cost-sharing limits.

All qualified health plans have an out-of-pocket maximum, which is the most you have to pay personally for covered services over the course of a year. All the money you pay for your deductible, coinsurance, and copays (but not premiums) goes toward your out-of-pocket maximum. Once you reach this limit, your insurance plan pays 100 percent for all covered medical services. Understanding how all potential out-of-pocket costs work together can be a little complicated, so here’s an example:

  • Suppose you are in a serious accident and have acquired $30,000 in medical expenses. Your health insurance plan offers a $2,000 deductible, 20 percent coinsurance, and a $5,000 out-of-pocket maximum for the year.
  • You would first be responsible for paying your deductible ($2,000).
  • After paying your deductible, you are responsible for your 20 percent coinsurance on the remaining $28,000 until you reach your out-of-pocket maximum.
  • Since 20 percent of $28,000 is $5,600, you would only be responsible for paying an additional $3,000 since your out-of-pocket maximum is $5,000. Your insurance plan would then pay 100 percent for all covered medical services thereafter.   

Be on the lookout for new resources from the National Consumers League (NCL) and America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) to help consumers choose and get the most out of their health insurance benefits.

Five commonly asked consumer health insurance questions – National Consumers League

doctor_patient_crop.jpgWith the Affordable Care Act (ACA) becoming law in 2010, more Americans now have access to health care coverage than ever before. However, many consumers are still puzzled about how to select a plan, what services are covered, or why they need health insurance altogether. If health insurance talk leaves you disillusioned or just plain confused, don’t give up. Below, we answer five of the most commonly asked consumer questions about health insurance. 

Why do I need health insurance?

It is in your best interest to have some form of health insurance. Why, you ask?

  • To protect your health
    While you may seem perfectly healthy now, sudden injuries or illnesses can occur in an instant. Without health insurance, you could be faced with thousands of dollars in medical costs, which could pose a significant financial burden well into the future. With health insurance, you also have access to preventive services such as physicals, immunizations, and other screenings that can help prevent diseases and identify problems earlier when they are easier to treat.
  • It’s required by law  
    Under the ACA, individuals are required to have health insurance (unless you qualify for an exemption). If you choose not to enroll, you will have to pay a tax penalty. 

How do I know what type of insurance plan is right for me and my family?

When shopping for a health insurance plan, here are some things to take into consideration:

  • Premiums: Each health insurance plan has a monthly premium that you must pay to maintain your coverage.  
  • Coverage/access to providers: Every plan has a different set of services, prescription drugs, and doctors that it agrees to cover. Every plan also uses a specific network of hospitals and health care providers to facilitate your care. Before choosing a plan, check that the services and prescription drugs you need are covered, and ensure that your current providers are within your plan’s network to avoid incurring additional costs down the line. 
  • Out-of-pocket costs: Out-of-pocket costs are health care expenses  you must pay yourself and that are not reimbursed by your insurance plan.

 Copayment, deductibles, coinsurance … What’s the difference?

  • A copayment or “copay” is a fixed amount ($10, for example) that you pay each time you visit a health care provider or fill a prescription.
  • A deductible is the amount you are responsible for paying for covered medical services before your health insurance plan starts to pay for covered medical expenses.
  • Coinsurance is usually a percentage of a total bill that you are responsible for paying after you’ve paid your deductible (for example, you pay 20 percent and your plan pays 80 percent). 

What is a health savings account, and what can I use those funds for?                                                                         

Health savings accounts (HSA) allow you to deposit pre-tax funds to pay for qualified medical expenses. They are typically combined with qualifying high-deductible health plans (HDHP). While HSA funds cannot be used to pay for monthly premiums, HSA-eligible HDHPs are attractive to many consumers because the premiums are generally lower. HSA funds can be used as needed to pay for prescription drug costs and fees such as copays, deductibles, and coinsurance. Learn more about health savings accounts here.

If my insurance company denies coverage for a service, is there anything I can do? 

If your insurance company does not authorize payment for a medical service, you have the right to appeal that decision. Before sending an appeal, carefully review your health coverage and the correspondence from your insurance company. Have copies of your medical records, letters from your providers, and any other pertinent information that supports your appeal. If your plan still denies payment of your claim after your initial appeal, you may opt for an external review conducted by an independent third party.

To answer questions like these, the National Consumers League (NCL) and America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) are teaming up to provide consumers with even more helpful information about how to choose and use health insurance benefits.



From patient To consumer: Reimagining health care from a consumer perspective – National Consumers League

family-on-bikes.jpgThe following Huffington Post op-ed was published August 18, co-authored by NCL’s Sally Greenberg and Marilyn Tavenner, the President and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans.

Navigating our health care system is no easy task. For decades, consumers have been forced to contend with a fragmented health system that makes decision making an all-consuming challenge. Whether it’s choosing a provider, knowing where to get information about cost or quality of doctors, or understanding a dictionary of complex health care terms, many consumers often feel left to fend for themselves in a system that is working against them.

For many individuals, it’s hard to know where to start. A recent state analysis by Rice University in Texas found that 42 percent of consumers who bought their own insurance felt like they lacked a clear understanding of their health insurance plans. Nearly a quarter of those surveyed who had employer-sponsored coverage still struggled with understanding their benefits.

We need to find a way to change this. While we all recognize the seismic shift underway as the age of consumerism in health care finally takes hold, we have to ask ourselves if we are truly practicing what we preach. We all have a responsibility to provide consumers with the transparent, actionable information they need to make smart choices about their care.

The good news is that online and mobile apps are making it increasingly easy for consumers to access information on their own time and with relative simplicity. Health plans have rolled out provider cost and quality calculators, and websites like FAIR Health make it possible for patients to see what a typical doctor’s visit or MRI will cost before they even walk into a provider’s office.

But even with this push towards more available data, we know that individuals and families still struggle when it comes to understanding and using their insurance benefits. Commonly searched online terms around insurance include, “what are deductibles?”, “finding a doctor,” and “how much will I pay in premiums?” Consumers are clearly telegraphing the need for simple, easy-to-understand information about their coverage.

Recently, our two organizations came together to compare notes on how we could collaborate to improve consumers’ health care experience. As a first step, we agreed that while there is a wealth of information in the market available for consumers, it is often poorly organized, out-of-date, or like the health care system itself, requires consumers to search multiple places for the information they need. Our first joint project will bring critical information together and present it in ways that are useful for consumers. We will rely on AHIP’s considerable knowledge of health insurance and NCL’s more than 100 years of consumer education to make information accessible, understandable, and actionable.

Our work builds upon what we have learned over the past several years on the frontlines of this health care transformation. A recent report from McKinsey found that although consumers are beginning to research their health plan choices, many of them are not yet aware of key factors they should consider before selecting coverage, such as the type of health plan and provider network, level of coverage, premiums, cost-sharing, covered services, drug formularies and tiers, and health status and anticipated utilization. Even once they have their insurance plan, many consumers may not be aware of all the benefits that are included, including free preventive services, disease management programs, fitness plans – and equally important, the tools they have available to get the best value for their health care dollars.

As consumers prepare for the upcoming open enrollment periods for Medicare and the Exchanges, AHIP and NCL will share new consumer resources and information answering some of the important questions about insurance coverage and health care ranging from how to choose a health plan to how to choose a doctor, as well as consumers’ rights if they feel they’ve been inappropriately denied a product or service that should be covered by their plan.

We know that health care isn’t always simple, but if we are to be successful in moving towards a patient-centered health system, we have to start by making health care information more accessible and usable for consumers. While this partnership is a first step, our hope is that our combined efforts will encourage and support the important work underway to improve consumers’ experience with the health system and the wellbeing of the country as a whole.

This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

NCL joins education campaign to help seniors safely buy drugs online – National Consumers League

counterfeit_Drugs_icon.jpgThis week, the National Consumers League (NCL) joined forces with the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP Global), and the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP) in launching a campaign to educate seniors and their caregivers about the health and financial risks associated with buying prescription medicines from illegal or rogue online pharmacies.Over the last century, the number of Americans aged 65 and older has increased exponentially, and studies show that this trend will continue for the foreseeable future. While the elderly are living longer, many older adults depend on a multitude of prescription drugs to maintain their quality of life and to combat many of the problems that may arise with aging, such as chronic diseases. Approximately nine out of 10 older adults have at least one chronic disease, and nine out of 10 older Americans rely on at least one prescription medication on a regular basis. As adults 65 and older account for over one-third of all prescription medications and with many seniors living on fixed incomes, it is not surprising that they are looking for opportunities to purchase their necessary medications at cheaper prices.

Unfortunately, seniors are particularly vulnerable to unknowingly purchasing counterfeit drugs in an effort to find a more convenient and affordable means to obtain the medications they need. Of course, there are many online pharmacies that operate legally and are perfectly safe. However, there are many rogue online pharmacy sites that sell potentially dangerous, or even deadly, drugs that have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for safety and effectiveness.

Many of these sites operate under the guise of being a legal, safe, and often cheaper alternative to purchasing a prescription from a retail or mail-order pharmacy. But in reality, they often sell drugs that contain the wrong active ingredient, the wrong amount of the active ingredient, no active ingredient at all, harmful ingredients, or even poisons. As an increasing number of older adults are being introduced to the Internet, it is important that they are educated on the risks associated with purchasing their prescriptions online.

To fill this knowledge gap, the National Consumers League is pleased to be collaborating with the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies and the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies to not only educate seniors and their caregivers about online pharmacies, but also empower them to make safe and informed decisions when shopping for prescription drugs online. Counterfeit drugs have long been an area of great concern for NCL, and we are enthusiastic about contributing to this joint effort to keep older Americans safe online.

To stay safe, seniors and their caregivers should avoid websites that:

  1. Do not require a valid prescription.
  2. Allow you to buy prescription medications by simply completing an online questionnaire.
  3. Offer drastically discounted prices.
  4. Do not have a licensed pharmacist available for consultation.
  5. Do not display a physical street address.
  6. Offer to ship prescriptions from other countries to the U.S.
  7. Are not verified by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP).

Consumers are encouraged to buy from sites ending in .pharmacy, which are verified by NABP. In addition, online pharmacies that display the VIPPS (Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites) seal have successfully undergone NABP’s rigorous screening process.

For more information about illegal online pharmacies and counterfeit medicines, consumers should visit www.XtheRisk.com. For additional information on health fraud and tips on how to protect yourself from the dangers of counterfeit drugs, visit Fraud.org.

Obesity doesn’t discriminate, but should preventive care be more personalized? – National Consumers League

obesity.jpgBy Ali Schklair, Linda Golodner Food Safety & Nutrition Fellow 

It isn’t news that obesity is an urgent problem in our country. According to a recent study by the CDC, over one third of US adults are obese. Education and health professionals have presented numerous strategies to combat this growing epidemic. Still, in order to enact real change, there needs to be a greater focus on how overweight and obesity affects specific populations.

Growing up with a brother with disabilities, I was exposed to the many challenges my family faced trying to help him develop healthy habits. Nutrition and weight were always difficult issues to manage. As a kid, my brother was very skinny. He was taking a medication that sped up his metabolism and suppressed his appetite. My parents would beg him to eat anything, even if the food was mostly fat and sugar. But as he got older, changed medications, and moved out of the house, he began to gain weight. Traditional weight loss methods have not worked for him. My brother faces a unique set of challenges, but he certainly isn’t alone. 

Obesity rates for adults with disabilities are 58 percent higher than they are for adults without disabilities. Additionally, obesity rates for children with disabilities are 38 percent higher than they are for children without disabilities. These numbers put adults and children with disabilities at a much higher risk of developing weight-related diseases such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and certain types of cancers.

So why are these rates so high? As is the case with my brother, many people with disabilities are prescribed medications that cause sluggishness or weight gain. Also, any physical disability affecting motor or balance issues, sight, or stamina can make getting enough exercise challenging. Many people with disabilities are sensitive to the taste, color, texture, and smell of certain foods, which can lead to limited food repertoires.

Along with physical or medical challenges, there are lifestyle differences that make weight loss for adults with disabilities especially difficult.  Adults with disabilities often rely on support staff, family members, job coaches, and nurses to help them through their day. Many adults with disabilities also have little control over their finances. This means food is often chosen and cooked for them, usually the quickest and easiest options.

The disability population faces a range of obstacles when it comes to addressing the obesity epidemic. But it is not just people with disabilities that face unique challenges. In its polling, the CDC has outlined how socioeconomic status, sex, and ethnicity can all contribute to the prevalence of obesity. Once we are better able to understand the barriers to eating healthy and getting adequate physical exercise, we can tailor strategies to address the unique needs of differing populations.

Cutting Costs for Contraceptives: Saving Money and Staying Healthy under the ACA – National Consumers League


A recent study shows that since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandate for insurance plans to cover contraceptives, we’ve seen a large reduction in out-of-pocket spending. In 2013, women saved $1.4 billion! This is important for all American women because too many skip preventive care and other health services due to cost. It appears that free contraception is having a large effect on the rate of pregnancies and abortions in the U.S. But some women are still paying out-of-pocket.

The ACA has strengthened women’s access to many different types of preventive care—including mammograms and all prescribed FDA-approved contraceptive services and supplies—without cost-sharing. However, as a Kaiser Family Foundation study found, not all plans are covering the cost of contraceptive services for consumers, despite the federal mandate to do so. The president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Dr. Mark S. DeFrancesco, stated, “Too often, medical management is used by some insurers as a barrier to access for patients.” The Department of Health and Human Services issued guidance for health insurers to clarify the ACA provision on contraceptive coverage without cost-sharing. With these clarifications, we can hope for full coverage of contraceptives without co-pays. 

U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) has introduced the Allowing Greater Access to Safe and Effective Contraception Act to make birth control pills and other contraceptives available over-the-counter for people aged 18 and older. While the bill would make contraceptives easier to obtain, it may not keep these services free of cost-sharing. Insurance companies only cover contraceptive services that come with a doctor’s prescription. Dr. Mark S. DeFrancesco said, “Instead of improving access, this bill would actually make more women have to pay for their birth control, and for some women, the cost would be prohibitive…we cannot support a plan that creates one route to access at the expense of another, more helpful route.” The Allowing Greater Access to Safe and Effective Contraception Act also repeals parts of the ACA. Studies continually demonstrate improved health among the U.S. population due to the ACA. The Act is doing its job.

The age restriction that Senator Ayotte’s bill puts on over-the-counter birth control would also limit the population that benefits from access to contraceptive services. Medical experts should make these decisions about contraceptives, not politicians! While getting a prescription is a burden for many, the cost that comes with over-the-counter medication creates barriers for people who can’t afford it. Advocates say birth control and other contraceptives must be made both accessible and affordable to all those who are looking to access these services. The benefits of making contraceptives easy to access and inexpensive are clear and even favorable to conservative politicians: fewer unwanted pregnancies and abortions, and more women having the ability to make decisions about their health.  

King v. Burwell ruling will keep consumers insured (and healthy!)

Health_Care_Law.jpgThe King v. Burwell ruling in favor of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has allowed for approximately eight million consumers to keep their insurance coverage. In the King case, petitioners challenged the clause of the Affordable Care Act that stated subsidies are available to people who use an exchange “established by the State” to purchase insurance. 

Consumers living in the 34 states without state marketplaces are able to benefit from the subsidies because the Internal Revenue Service allowed people to receive assistance if they purchased a plan on the federally-run marketplace. The plaintiffs argued that subsidies by law are only given to people living in states with their own health insurance marketplaces. The ruling allows consumers in states where the marketplace is run by the federal government to keep their subsidy and insurance.

The National Consumers League (NCL) applauds the Supreme Court for upholding the ACA subsidies for consumers using the federal marketplace. The Supreme Court decision helps prevent a rise in premiums for all consumers using the health care exchange. The subsidies are a key provision of the law and they are an important part of keeping consumers insured and healthy. This decision provides hope that the ACA will face fewer political and legal obstacles in the future and can continue to provide health insurance to consumers. Despite the naysayers, the numbers speak volumes. Since the ACA’s enactment, more than 16 million Americans have been able to afford quality health insurance they did not have before.

If you do not already have health insurance, you can enroll in person, over the phone, by mail, online at Healthcare.gov, or on your state exchange’s site during the open enrollment period. 

Ways to save on Rx Meds? Co-pay cards and other resources – National Consumers League

92_rx_costs.jpgThe bad news is that the cost of health care continues to rise, and many consumers find it tough to pay for medications. The good news is there are a number of consumer options for saving money on the medications your doctor prescribes. Read on to learn more about how co-pay and discount cards might be a good option for you.

First things first

Find out whether a generic, or non-brand, drug is available and appropriate for you. Generic drugs are a good way to save money, but for some patients, and for certain conditions, a brand-name drug may be needed.

Check out co-pay and discount cards to see if they will save you money on your prescription drugs. With many different kinds of co-pay and discount cards, it may be difficult to sort out which ones are right for you.

What are they?

Co-pay cards can be used to lower or eliminate your insurance co-payment, or out-of-pocket costs, for a prescription medication. A co-pay is the fixed amount that insurance companies ask consumers to pay toward their medication or other health services. The cards are typically offered by companies that manufacture brand-name medicines, although some generic companies offer co-pay card programs as well. Drug discount cards can help lower the price on medications. Most cards are available for free, while others charge a fee up-front to receive the card.

How do they work?

Co-pay cards may be available from your physician or can be found through the Internet, and are generally used to offset the cost of the co-pay for brand-name prescription drugs. Each program is different, but many require that a patient register prior to presenting his or her card to the pharmacist. As a patient, you give the card to your pharmacist when you get a prescription filled. The amount of the co-pay may be reduced or covered entirely. The pharmaceutical company that makes the drug covers the cost of reducing your co-pay when you use the card.

Things to know about co-pay cards:

Co-pay cards can help consumers reduce out-of-pocket costs for their brand name medication, especially for specialty drugs, such as those that treat multiple sclerosis (MS) and rheumatoid arthritis. Having access to cheaper medications means patients don’t have to look for cheaper, possibly less effective, versions.

  • Studies show that higher patient co-pay amounts are linked with fewer people taking their medication as directed, or reducing medication adherence. With a lower co-pay, consumers will be less likely to skip taking their mediation.
  • Some say co-pay cards encourage the use of more expensive brand-name drugs over lower cost generics. Some patients, however, must take a brand-name drug for medical reasons and there may not be a generic drug available that contains the exact same active ingredient.
  • Co-pay cards CANNOT be used by people with MedicareMedicaid, or other federal or state healthcare programs. The federal government is cracking down on the use of co-pay cards for Medicare part D drugs. There was a recent Special Advisory put out by the Office of Inspector General that “underscored that manufacturers are responsible to ensure that co-pay card coupons are not used by Medicare D beneficiaries.”
  • Many mail order medication programs do not accept co-pay cards.

Drug discount cards are often available online. The cards may be offered and paid for by state governments, pharmaceutical companies, non-profit organizations, or large retail store chains. Discount cards work through participating pharmacies that agree to offer lower prices on a variety of medicines (both brand names and generics), similar to the prices provided to insurance companies or large employers.

Things to know about discount cards:

  • Be careful about any cards that charge a fee up front to get access to the card. The fees could add up to more than the discount itself!
  • When using a free card, it is still important to consider the cost of your medication. The generic version may be cheaper than the discounted brand medication covered by the card.
  • The card can be used if your insurance does not cover your medication, or if your deductible has not been met.
  • A few discount cards can be used with Medicare (especially if you fall within the Part D donut hole), but you should check the individual card since this is very program specific.

Who pays for these cost savings for you?

Pharmaceutical companies that make the drug often pay for the cost of co-pay card programs, because their brand-name drugs become more affordable for consumers. Participating pharmacies agree to offer consumers discount prices for the medications covered by a drug discount card. In return, participating pharmacies receive more customers when people can afford to fill their prescriptions and get more traffic through other areas of their stores.

Be on the lookout

Once again, watch for cards with fees. Generally, you should not have to pay for a co-pay or discount card. Most are available without any fee.

Guard your personal information. Be careful about giving out any personal information to get a card. Never list your Social Security Number. Most companies ask if you would like to receive any additional information, offers, and advertisements, so be sure to decline if you aren’t interested.

Learn more

These Web sites provide links to hundreds of assistance programs, including co-pay cards, drug discount cards, and coupons. Through these links to other Web sites, you can access co-pay and discount cards directly. Pharmaceutical companies also have sites for cost-saving programs or cards for their specific medicines. For many of these programs, there are no fees or registration costs for using the cards, but check carefully before you sign up.


Offers links to co-pay cards, coupons, and other financial assistance for brand name prescriptions. Search the alphabetized database for your brand name medication and click to take you to the drug manufacturer’s Web site to sign up for the assistance. These discounts are not available to those whose prescriptions are paid for by any state or federal program, including Medicare and Medicaid, and there are some state specific limitations.

Co-pay Cards from Pharmaceutical Manufacturers

Drug manufacturers offer specific co-pay assistance for a variety of medications, here are a few examples:

  • Lipitor $4 co-pay/prescription
  • Crestor- $18 co-pay/prescription
  • Nexium- $18 co-pay/prescription for up to 12 fills


The site offers a free, downloadable prescription discount card to print and use at participating pharmacies as well as links to other discount programs and co-pay cards for both brand and generic medications. Search the alphabetized database for prescription assistance programs, links to co-pay cards, and disease specific assistance programs. Needymeds includes other services, such as locating free/low cost clinics, MRI/CAT scan discounts, scholarships, and links to Medicaid sites.

Familywize: Prescription Discount Card

Patients can access a discount card that can be used in over 60,000 pharmacies to lower the cost of prescription drugs. This card is free of charge and can be downloaded and printed. The card is also available electronically on a mobile phone. This site offers a user-friendly drug lookup table so you can begin to estimate your drug costs using the card.

Mobile Apps

Discount cards are available as mobile apps downloadable to your phone. The electronic discount card is then presented to the pharmacist when you fill your prescription. Check out your app store for more details.

Other prescription assistance programs

Here are more resources to assist with the cost of prescription drugs. Many pharmaceutical companies have patient assistance programs for those who cannot afford their medications and have no health insurance. Information is available at their websites by putting “patient assistance programs” or “patient support” into the search field at the site.

Partnership for Prescription Assistance

Programs around the country that help patients, caregivers, and prescribers access free or low-cost prescription drugs. This site links to a variety of services to help lower your co-payment for both prescriptions and other medical services.

Patient Access Network

Helps underinsured patients with co-payments for cancer or chronic disease medications.

Benefits CheckUp: Prescription Drug Assistance

National Council of Aging Web site that helps seniors with limited income and resources make the best decisions about the public and private programs that are available to help them save money on prescription drugs and other healthcare costs.

Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs

Consumers Union, the group that publishes Consumer Reports, evaluates the best drugs to treat certain conditions based on how well the drugs work, their safety, their side effects, and their cost. This information is also available in Spanish.

Medicare Extra Help

Some people with limited resources and income also are eligible for Extra Help to pay for the costs related to a Medicare prescription drug plan – – monthly premiums, annual deductibles, and prescription co-payments.


Provides pharmacy discounts based on negotiated prices at participating pharmacies. HelpRx.info is partnered with a pharmacy benefit provider to help make the information accessible by simply picking a pharmacy or searching for a drug. The search results will come up with the nearest pharmacies or the pharmacies with the best discounts. Patients may claim the discounts by either printing the coupon or sending it electronically to a mobile phone.

Guide to good med smartphone apps – National Consumers League

92_med_apps.jpgThree out of four Americans struggle to take their medications as directed, and this costs our healthcare system $300 billion every year! New smartphone apps can help consumers — especially those with chronic conditions or multiple medications — take their medication as directed and become healthier. These apps can be a great tool to help you keep track of your meds, but not all medication apps are alike and some are more useful than others.

Today’s health apps range from helping users eat healthier, to looking up symptoms, providing daily motivation tips, or helping you take your medications as directed (or adherence). 

The purpose of medication management apps is to help you take your medication(s) as directed. Once you download a medication management app, you are often asked to input information about all the meds you are taking, including the dose (how much), how often, and when you take them. The apps usually offer an alert or reminder when you are supposed to take each medication.

Before picking a medication management app check to make sure it has the following features:

  • Good Security – Apps often store your private, personal information so be sure to pick an app that has safeguards in place to protect you. The app should have a log-in that requires a password and a disclaimer that guarantees that your information will not be shared with third parties without your knowledge. The app should not ask you to provide sensitive, identifying information, such as your social security number.
  • Reminders – Reminders, often sent as alerts, remind you when to take your medications according to the times you have set. The best systems let you indicate that you have taken the medication, need to delay taking the medication, or have stopped taking the medication altogether. Make sure the reminder is in a format that works for you.
  • Personalizing Information You should be able to input medication in the form of pills, inhalers, injections, liquids, or other forms. Some medication management apps only allow a certain number of medications, which is not helpful if you are taking many medications or if you are managing medications for more than one family member.
  • “Notes” Field You should be able to add in additional information about who prescribed the medication, directions about taking the medication, or any additional information in a “notes” field.
  • Functionality (or usability) Make sure the app is available for your particular type of smart phone or tablet, and you feel comfortable using it. 

These additional features are helpful in a medication management app, but might require additional fees:

  • Tracking missed doses Apps that let you record whether you have taken or missed doses and use visual reports to track your progress can help you identify areas of weakness to improve overall adherence.
  • Sharing information with health care providers and family caregivers Apps that let you email, print, or export your prescriptions and habits can help make it easier to share this information with health care providers and family caregivers. Some apps allow your health care providers (with your permission) to update your medication regimen on your app and send you information automatically, which can be helpful when you need to make changes.
  • Dose limits Some medications have strict dose limits. For example, for pain medications with acetaminophen, it is important to not take more than directed. Apps that monitor the dose limits you input can be helpful to make sure you don’t take too much. These apps can adjust next dose reminders according to when you indicate you took your last dose, rather than on a strict “every X hours” type schedule, which could be harmful if you ended up taking your last dose late.
  • Options for caregivers If you manage the medications of one or more family members, some apps allow you to organize medication information and schedules for multiple family members.
  • Other reminders Some apps incorporate medication reminders that involve more than just an alert when it’s time to take your next medicine. This includes when you need to refill your prescription or when your prescription is about to expire.
  • Reminders for more complicated medication schedules – If you have a complicated medication schedule, make sure your app fit your needs. Does that app let you mark a medication “as needed” but with strict dose limits? Does it let you mark a medication “every X days rather than every day? Can you group your meds?
  • Medication database These apps access a database of medications that allow you to enter, search, and select medications. This feature can save time and improve accuracy when entering your medication’s name and schedule.
  • Accessing the app online Some apps have a companion website that allows you to input information from a computer and sync it to your smart phone or tablet.

Make sure the app you pick works for you and makes it easier to manage your medications. Always ask your health care provider if you have questions about when and how to take your medication. Medication management apps can help you take care of your health by helping you take your mediation as directed.

Education campaigns improve safe acetaminophen use – National Consumers League

Untitled-1.jpgAcetaminophen is the most commonly used drug ingredient in America. It is found in over 600 of the most commonly used over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription drugs, including Tylenol, Robitussin, Dayquil, Nyquil and so many more. An estimated 50 million Americans take acetaminophen every week. When taken as directed, acetaminophen is safe and effective. Taking too much acetaminophen, however, can cause severe liver damage.

Acetaminophen is the most commonly used drug ingredient in America. It is found in over 600 of the most commonly used over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription drugs, including Tylenol, Robitussin, Dayquil, Nyquil and so many more. An estimated 50 million Americans take acetaminophen every week. When taken as directed, acetaminophen is safe and effective. Taking too much acetaminophen, however, can cause severe liver damage.

Consumer education is a key step to ensuring safe acetaminophen use and preventing overdoses. A new report from the Acetaminophen Awareness Coalition (of which National Consumers League is a founding member) “Acetaminophen: How It’s Used, Preventing Overdose and What We Can Do to Promote Safe Use,” explores the successful impact of ongoing healthcare provider and consumer-led education campaigns. Over the last three years many organizations have launched new campaigns aimed at educating consumers about safe medicine use. Among these efforts is TakeWithCare.org, launched by NCL in 2014 to educate teens on safe use of over-the-counter medications.

The report found that consumer awareness about safe medicine use between 2010 and 2013 improved across the board. In 2010, 90 percent of people said it’s dangerous to exceed maximum doses and 76 percent said they were aware they could overdose by doubling up on multiple medications with the same active ingredient. By 2013 those numbers improved to 98 percent and 81 percent respectively.

Perhaps the most substantial finding from the new report is that consumer education campaigns do work and do help consumers be more informed. In 2010, 78 percent of those surveyed understood that, “exceeding the recommended daily dose of acetaminophen may lead to liver damage.” By 2013 that number increased to 87 percent. Many stakeholders from different backgrounds are working on educating consumers about the dangers of acetaminophen overdose. We must keep up these efforts to reduce unintentional overdosing.

As an organization that runs many consumer education initiatives it is great to know these campaigns truly do create a more informed and healthy consumer base. 

So…what is Acetaminophen?

Acetaminophen is the most widely used pain reliever and fever reducer that temporarily relieves minor pains and aches such as those resulting from the common cold, muscle aches, headache, arthritis, allergies, and premenstrual and menstrual cramps.

To find out if a medicine you are taking contains acetaminophen, read the drug facts label. Here’s an example:

When used properly, acetaminophen is safe and effective. Like any medicine, however, there is a limit to how much should be taken in one day. The FDA recommends a maximum daily dose of no more than 4,000 milligrams (mg) of acetaminophen. The amount of acetaminophen in an individual product varies and you can find the amount listed in milligrams on the medicine label. Exceeding the daily limit, or overdosing on acetaminophen can lead to severe liver damage or death. Overdose occurs when consumers take too much at one time or take a second dose before they are supposed to in an effort to help manage the pain. Using multiple medications that contain acetaminophen can also result in misuse or overdose. It is important to read the directions carefully or ask your health care provider before taking any medicine.

Tips to Safely Use Acetaminophen

  1. Read and follow the medicine label.  Reading the labels provides consumers with need-to-know ingredients as well as proper usage directions. Find out if a medicine contains acetaminophen.
  2. Talk to your pharmacist/physician. Become more aware and informed about your prescribed or over-the-counter medicines. Ask questions about allergies, proper dosage, and how often the product should be used.
  3. Never take two acetaminophen-containing medicines at the same time. Double check the label, and don’t double up on acetaminophen.

For more information visit, Know Your Dose today!