A few months back, after returning from a family vacation that involved lots of pool time, my 9-year-old son complained that his ear hurt. A Sunday morning trip to urgent care brought a diagnosis of swimmer's ear - an infection of the outer ear canal - and a prescription for ear drops. When my wife went to fill the prescription, for a quarter of an ounce, she was told that our share of the cost would be $135.
Even with the increasingly high cost of drugs, that seemed like a lot. Since I'm a longtime health-care reporter, my wife asked me what to do. "Fill it," I said, thinking more like a father than a journalist.
Wisely, she didn't listen. Instead, she searched online for a coupon for the brand-name drug the doctor had prescribed, Ciprodex. She pulled one up on her phone, showed it to the pharmacist and sliced our cost by more than half, to $60.
That was great for us. Like most consumers, we were practically giddy about the savings. But such coupons have hidden effects on health-care costs that most of us don't ponder.