How much do your prescription drugs cost now?


Michael Ramirez's website to compare prescription drug costs:

How much might they cost under an Obamacare insurance plan?

About Pill Fill

While one tool on Pill Fill allows users to compare drug costs under different Obamacare insurance policies, Michael Ramirez primarily designed the website to let patients store all the information about their prescription medications in one easy-to-access electronic place.

"It's really hard to keep up with all your medicines," said Michael Worsham, 42, of Jacksonville, who uses the website.

Patients can upload all their prescription information from CVS, Walgreens or virtually any other pharmacy by downloading the Pill Fill app and allowing the website to access those separate accounts. Users also can manually enter prescriptions.

Ramirez said the information is encrypted so that it never actually leaves your computer or cell phone, eliminating the possibility of any security breaches.

Worsham said he uses the Pill Fill app on his smartphone to keep track of three different prescriptions. One of the best things about it, he said, is that the website and app are free.

It's also simple to use, he said. "It's click, click, click and you're off and going."

Finding the price for premiums on the Affordable Care Act insurance exchange is easy, mainly because is running much more smoothly than it did when the website launched Oct. 1.

But premiums only tell part of the story. Gauging the price of prescription drugs under these plans is trickier, yet it's a crucial step in determining total out-of-pocket costs for any particular policy, especially for patients who take more than one medication.

That's why Easley resident Michael Ramirez developed a website called Pill Fill to make these choices clearer.

"You have to go into these ridiculous documents (on that are sometimes hundreds of pages long. They're all coded differently," Ramirez said. "I wanted to provide a simple way."

Most South Carolinians don't need to worry about purchasing an Obamacare plan. They're already covered through work, by Medicare or by Medicaid and won't face a penalty for not signing up on the insurance exchange. But tens of thousands of people here do need to enroll through the website by March 31.

Pill Fill is primarily designed to allow patients to aggregate all of their prescription information in one convenient place. But a useful tool called Formulary Compare on Ramirez's website also lets users anonymously plug in a list of their prescription drugs and find out which Obamacare insurance policy will best fit their needs. The website doesn't provide exact prices, but it does offer hints about which plans offer more robust benefits for certain drugs.

For example, the website shows that Vyvanse, a brand-name drug used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), is a Tier 2 drug under Consumer's Choice Health Plan. By contrast, Vyvanse is a Tier 3 drug that requires prior approval under the Blue Essentials plans.

Celebrex, a brand-name drug used to treat arthritis, is listed as a Tier 2 drug by one company, but a Tier 3 drug by three others. The lower the tier, the less the drug will cost.

While generic equivalents of brand name drugs are often listed as Tier 1 prescriptions under these insurance plans, the Pill Fill website allows shoppers to double-check that their medications will be covered. The website is free.

"I want to build useful tools and hopefully people will use them," Ramirez said. "If I'm successful at it, I'll figure out the monetization later."

To date, he estimates a few thousand people have used the site. He also launched a Pill Fill app for Android phones and expects to debut the iPhone app later this month.

Pharmacist Mary Wise, owner of Herold's Pharmacy in West Ashley, said Pill Fill could be helpful for consumers to determine their drug costs.

"Any medications falling outside of Tier 1 co-pays is worth a call from the patient to the plan administrators to get their out-of-pocket cost," Wise said. "From there, patients can start breaking down the actual costs of each plan according to their maintenance medications."

Ramirez, who formerly lived in Charleston, said buying health insurance for the first time is difficult enough. Switching health plans and attempting to make sense of which drugs are covered and which aren't can be very confusing.

"That can be a real drain on your time and patience," he said. The website is designed to make the federal government's imperfect system easier to use, he said.

"I know the Affordable Care Act is not a popular thing here, but ignoring it is not going to make it go away," he said.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.