GREENVILLE, SC (FOX Carolina) - Lawmakers around the country have  been working to put laws in place, so pharmacists can share that information with you.

And they want consumers to know, they can, and should ask about their options.  Now, President Donald Trump recently signed two bills into law to ban that practice.

When you hand over your prescription card to pay for your medicine, you assume you're getting the lowest price.  But that's not always the case.

Kevin Bryant is the South Carolina Lt. Governor and is also Pharmacist. "When I tell someone their copay is $150 I pick them up off the floor."

Bryant tells us sometimes, your out-of-pocket costs will be less than your copay. But until recently in South Carolina and around the country, pharmacists were banned from telling you about cheaper options, unless the customer brought it up.

Bryant explains, "Some of the insurance contracts have a gag order where I can't volunteer to my customer, 'Hey if you pay cash for this you'll save money.' But customers are catching on, they're asking the questions, they're initiating."

Bryant tells us, these "gag clauses" have been in effect for the past 25 years or so.   They're written into some of the contracts pharmacies have with pharmacy benefit managers, the people who manage prescription plans.  And they have forced pharmacists to be quiet, or face losing those big contracts.

Michael Calnan is a pharmacist in Greenville.  "So if you have a patient come in and their copay is $20 and you usually charge $7.99 or $8.99, you're not supposed to share that information with them.  Which i think runs totally against what being a pharmacist means."

Calnan says he's basically ignored the gag clauses over the years.

"If we can save the patient money, we save the patient money.  If you're going to  get in trouble for taking good care of your patients then we'll take the action we need to take after that.  That's the way I've always practiced."

He says about 5% of the time, he finds savings for his patients, and doesn't hesitate to tell them their out-of-pocket cost is cheaper than using a prescription card.

State lawmakers around the country took notice.  According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, about half the country put laws into place banning those gag clauses.  That included here in South Carolina, with legislation that passed in May.  Then, just last week President Trump signed two new bills into law, that do away with pharmacy gag clauses for everyone, so pharmacists around the country are free to tell customers if there is a lower price.

South Carolina Representative Todd Atwater introduced the state bill in South Carolina.  "I introduced the bill, got some momentum behind it, talked to a number of pharmacists who are part of the legislature. They love the idea and said 'Todd this is a problem for us.'"  

Representative Atwater says the gag clauses never should've been there in the first place.

"We're so used to going in with our card, giving our card and saying 'Oh my co-payment,' and expecting our copayment to cover it.  Sometimes these drugs are available, not through the negotiated benefit, but at a lesser price without doing the copay."

He tells us it's now about making sure pharmacists know they're able to speak openly about cheaper options.

But he says don't forget to speak up at the pharmacy counter.

"Next time you go in don't be afraid to ask, it never hurts to ask. You're not trying to negotiate or haggle, this isn't buying a car, this is your health.  Ask the pharmacist, is there a cheaper alternative."

Another good way to try to bring your prescription costs down is to call around to different pharmacies.  

You can also go online to compare out-of-pocket costs for medicines.

GoodRX will show you prices of different drugs at pharmacies located near you.

Copyright 2018 FOX Carolina (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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