How much do you spend on your migraines?

There was one year a few years ago when doing my tax return where I calculated I spent approx $6,500 on doctors, practitioners, therapies and treatments in a single year on migraine (with the receipts to prove it). Migraines are costly. It's a multi-billion dollar industry for the medical world. And it costs us thousands or more. The costs of the migraine disease go far beyond the financial. But this article will discuss how to potentially save some valuable dollars on your condition.

Before we you jump in, I should say that this will not work for everyone. It will depend on the type medication you’re taking and where your live. This is all discussed below.

Another caveat is that this will be most effective for people who have government or medical insurance benefits that subsidise medical treatments. For example in Australia where this example is based we have a national Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme or PBS, which is an Australian Government programme that provides subsidised prescription drugs to residents of Australia. In the United States- whilst pricing conventions are not the same- there is still a significant benefit.

How it happened

This realisation occurred by circumstance. I didn’t go out trying to save money. It occurred after I received two prescriptions that didn’t have my correct dose, but I found a way to make it work and in the process halved my medical bill.

The discovery occurred after my migraine relapse, where I broke my 100 day migraine-free streak. Several attacks into the relapse, I visited my doctor and we decided to go back onto Topiramate, a preventative medication I had used before. The plan was stop the now bi-weekly attacks which were becoming more frequent.

When I received the prescription my historical doses were previously 100mg of Topiramate per day. At the time of the doctor visit I was taking 50mg from an old prescription. So my doctor gave me scripts for 100mg and 25mg with several repeats.

Strange pricing conventions

The way that the drug Topiramate is priced with the PBS in Australia is that is it the same price regardless of the strength. i.e. same price for 25mg, 50mg or 100mg it is still $36.90. See below.

Topiramate brand

Of course it can vary by store, brand or format etc. but generally it remains consistent for the different strengths.

For me to take a 100mg dose per day as per the doctor prescription I had a few choices, each with very different financial outcomes.

How to blow your budget - the expensive way

If I used my 25mg tabs which is all that I had left over it would be very expensive. Most people would know this and avoid it unless you ran out of your other prescription. But for argument sake lets do the math and find out how much it would cost, assuming I stay on 25mg strength tabs to take 100mg a day for 3 months whilst I attempt to recover.

At 4x 25mg per day to reach 100mg dose. With 60 tabs per bottle. I would go through 2 bottles per month. Therefore I would need to purchase 6 bottles of Topiramate for a 3 month supply- costing $221.40.

How most buy medicine

If I was using the correct dose with 50mg in the morning and 50mg at night as per the prescription instructions. I'd purchase a 50mg strength tabs typically in a 60 tabs per bottle. I would go through 1 bottle per month (at 2 doses per day using a 60 tab bottle). Therefore I would spend half as much in this scenario. i.e. $110.70. This is what most sensible people would do and what I’ve done previously unless of course you run out of a certain script.

...How can you half the cost from here?

The cheapest option

To halve the cost again you need to bring in another tool that hasn’t been brought up yet. This is the simple and common application. A pill cutter. This valuable tool you purchase for less than $10. You can get these at any pharmacy.

Using a 100mg tab. You evenly cut the 100mg tab into two separate tabs so that now have two 50mg tabs. You have now effectively doubled your supply from the 60 tab bottle to 120 tablets.

At a dosage of 100mg per day (taking two doses of 50mg) using this technique with the pill cutter. It now costs the equivalent of $55.35 in tabs.

You can either buy 50mg tabs for $36 or 100mg for same price and use a pill cutter to half the cost. For me the choice is a simple.

migraine medicine table

Medication costs can add up quickly in just three months. Here, we explored the range which can vary from $221 to $55. No matter which option you choose, you should always follow the prescription dosage set out by your doctor to minimize any side effects and maximize the potential for success.

What about other locations or different prices?

In the US and other countries where the pricing is not so bizarre and the price tends increase with strength/dosage, you can still get significant savings.

How? Since the price doesn’t double when the dosage doubles, it means you can still benefit from doubling your supply using a pill cutter. After looking at quotes from CVS Pharmacy, Walgreens and Safeway you can expect to save between 20%-40% using this method. Which still adds up quickly.

Will this work for everyone?

It is important to note that this will only work for treatments that can be cut in a pill cutter. So capsules, injections, inhalers etc. will not work. And if your not sure about what format your treatment comes in or whether it can be cut in a pill cutter ask your pharmacist.

I hope this helps some of you. I did think twice about writing this as it may disappoint those people who get their hopes up but then are let down because their medications cannot be cut using a pill cutter. If that is the case I apologise. In the end I decided if can help a few more people save money than it’s worth spreading the message.

Risks & Concerns

There is obviously an element of risk involved. When you use a pill cutter, you are manually cutting a pill in half. There is room for error, you may not cut the pill evenly and give yourself a perfectly even dose. You may spill or waste small fragments.

If in doubt about any of this you should speak to your doctor or pharmacist. Certainly if you think it would make you more anxious or increase potential stress levels then it is simply not worth the risk. Just stick with what you know.

Another way you may be able to save is by purchasing in bulk.

Buying larger pack sizes

Regardless of medicine type, you are almost always able to save money if you buy in bulk. If you know you are going to need a larger supply of medication, then ask if they have a larger pack size and it usually ends up cheaper per dose (be sure to check this).

The financial toll of migraines is something not often discussed and but an important aspect of our condition. Especially if there are ways to help reduce the burden.

I’ve been paying for expensive medications on and off for over 15 years. I think we've spent enough our condition, if this saves you a few dollars then great. If you know of other tips to save money on your condition please share them in the comments below!

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