OTC Essentials You Need in Your Medicine Cabinet

Millions of people use over-the-counter (OTC) products to help ease back pain, fight the common cold, and reduce fevers every day. Many healthcare providers trust OTC medications as a first treatment option for some conditions.

Most people think of medications such as pain relievers and cold medicines when they think of OTC essentials, but they may not think of items such as pill splitters and sunscreen. All of the above can be considered essential OTC items that you should keep in your medicine cabinet at all times.

Remember to speak to your doctor about possible side effects, and keep in mind that not all of these products will work for every person.

What OTC Essentials Should Go in My Medicine Cabinet?

OTC Essentials | Medicare Plan Finder
OTC Essentials | Medicare Plan Finder

Stock your medicine cabinet with products that can help treat a variety of ailments. You should be able to reach into your medicine cabinet and find something to relieve your symptoms rather than have to run to the pharmacy every time you have an ache or pain. 

Always check with your doctor or pharmacist before buying an OTC product. Certain products may interact with your current prescription drugs, and you could end up harming yourself.

Pain Relievers and Fever Reducers

Pain relievers are among the most-purchased OTC products. They can help lower your body temperature if you have a fever and reduce inflammation.

Aspirin: This effective pain reliever and fever reducer has been popular for over a century. Aspirin is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). Some people may find that it irritates their stomach, so many doctors recommend that you take it with food. Even though aspirin is a great addition to your medicine cabinet, it can interfere with blood clotting. If you take blood thinners or you’re about to have surgery, you should avoid aspirin.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol): This pain reliever works differently than NSAIDs. Acetaminophen does not affect inflammation. If you want or need to avoid aspirin, acetaminophen may be a better choice. Ask your doctor how much to take because you can damage your liver if your dosage is too high. Many cold and cough medicines also contain acetaminophen, so if you’re in doubt, check in with your doctor or pharmacist.

Ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin) or Naproxen Sodium (Aleve): These pain relievers are also NSAIDs. They are great for reducing inflammation-related pains such as headaches, arthritis-related joint pain, and muscle pains. Some doctors even prescribe these NSAIDs as post-surgery painkillers. These drugs can also help reduce fevers, making them an important addition to any medicine cabinet.

Cold and Cough Medicine 

Colds and coughs are among the most common winter weather illnesses, and they’re highly contagious. If you stock your medicine cabinet with effective cold and cough medicine, you not only help yourself, but you help everyone around you.

Decongestants: These medicines are OTC essentials that can help you breathe easier. Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) or phenylephrine (Dristan Cold Multi-Symptom and Rynatan) can help clear your airways while your immune system fights off your cold. Note that federal law limits how much pseudoephedrine you can buy per month.

Cough Medicine: You need different cough medicines depending on your type of cough. A dry, hacking cough is best suppressed with dextromethorphan. Robitussin Maximum Strength Cough and Pertussin both contain this cough suppressant. 

If you have a mucusy cough, use an expectorant such as guaifenesin to loosen secretions. Brand name products that have guaifenesin include Robitussin PE and Benylin Expectorant Formula.

Rx Discount Card | Medicare Plan Finder
Rx Discount Card | Medicare Plan Finder

Allergy Medicines

OTC Essentials | Medicare Plan Finder
OTC Essentials | Medicare Plan Finder

These medications are great to have on hand during your allergy season, whether it be spring, summer or fall. If you have allergies, many OTC products can help relieve the most common allergy symptoms.

Antihistamines: Diphenhydramine (in Benadryl), chlorpheniramine (in Chlor-Trimeton), and clemastine (in Tavist Allergy 12 Hour Relief) all help relieve sneezing and runny noses. Be cautious with these medications because they all can cause sleepiness. If you need to be alert, look for products with loratadine such as Claritin, because they are not sedating.

Eyedrops: Drops that contain an antihistamine and a decongestant, such as Naphcon A and Opcon-A, can help soothe watery and itchy eyes.

Digestive Aids

Pink Bismuth: You can relieve a multitude of digestive issues such as nausea, indigestion, and diarrhea with pink bismuth (Pepto Bismol). 

Calcium carbonate tablets: Tums and Rolaids can both relieve heartburn, which is when stomach acid backs up and irritates your throat. They work by temporarily neutralizing stomach acid. As a bonus, they provide supplemental calcium, which may be deficient in many people’s diets.

Maalox or Mylanta: Are heartburn relief products that may be longer-lasting than calcium carbonate tablets.

Fiber-Based Products for Constipation: OTC essentials such as Metamucil can help treat constipation. Your body is much less likely to become dependent on fiber-based products than laxatives such as Miralax. If you do use laxatives, be sure to only use them on rare occasions.

Topical Products for Your Skin

These items can help make your life easier, safer, or both. You can purchase them at any major drug store.

First Aid Supplies: Your medicine cabinet should include bandages, gauze, and medical tape. These items will keep dirt, dust, and debris from hindering your body’s ability to heal minor cuts and scrapes.

Pill Splitter: Sometimes you need to cut OTC or prescription drugs in half, and a pill splitter is an easy-to-use tool that can help. Whether your pill is too big for you to take or your doctor recommends splitting your dose, your pill splitter will be a welcomed addition to your medicine cabinet.

Pill Organizer: It can be difficult to remember when to take your pills, or if you’ve already taken them. A pill organizer is a handy tool that can separate your pills by when you should take them. Pill organizers usually have different compartments labeled with each day of the week. This makes it easy to know when to take your prescriptions, especially if you’re supposed to take them on a specific day of the week, or every other day, for example.

Textured Bath Mat: Many slips, trips, and falls happen in the bathroom every year. It’s understandable: the floors can be slippery. Use a bath mat with a textured grip to help you get a secure footing and reduce your chance of injury.

Medicine Cabinet Checklist

Use this medicine cabinet checklist as an inventory starting point when stocking essential OTC items. The checklist should only be a guide. Always ask your doctor before you purchase any new OTC medications.

Medicine Cabinet Checklist | Medicare Plan Finder
Medicine Cabinet Checklist | Medicare Plan Finder

Where to Purchase Over-the-Counter Essentials

You can find many of the over-the-counter essentials for your medicine cabinet at the following stores?

Online Stores for Over-the-Counter Essentials

Many of the stores listed above have a mail-order feature so you don’t have to leave your house when you need OTC products. You may be able to find your favorite OTC items at the following online pharmacies*:

*This is not a complete list of online pharmacies.

A Medicare Advantage Plan With OTC Coverage Can Help Pay for Your OTC Essentials

If you’re eligible for Medicare, you may wonder, “Does Medicare cover OTC drugs?” Original Medicare does not cover OTC drugs. However, certain private insurance plans called Medicare Advantage (MA) plans can offer OTC coverage. Some MA plans offer other additional services such as vision, dental, hearing, and even fitness classes!

A licensed agent with Medicare Plan Finder can help find the right MA plan for your budget and lifestyle. Call 844-431-1832 or contact us here to learn more.

Contact Us | Medicare Plan Finder
Contact Us | Medicare Plan Finder

This post was originally published on July 26, 2019, and updated on November 19, 2019.

OTC Medicare Drug Coverage

According to the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, the average American makes 26 trips per year to buy over-the-counter (OTC) products. As you age, this number may increase. This means you may be spending more on these products each year.

Every penny counts and understanding the products, drugs, and the role of a Medicare Advantage OTC pre-paid card can help you save in the long run.

Contact Us | Medicare Plan Finder
Contact Us | Medicare Plan Finder

What Are Over-the-Counter Medications?

These medications don’t require a doctor’s prescription to be purchased. They can help ease pains such as backaches, help prevent or treat illnesses such as athlete’s foot and allergic reactions, and help manage recurring issues such as migraines.

The most common over the counter medications are fever reducers, anti-inflammatories, allergy pills, and cold medicine.

OTC Medicare | Medicare Plan Finder
OTC Medicare | Medicare Plan Finder

Does Medicare Cover Over-the-Counter Drugs?

Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) does not cover over-the-counter products and medications. Some stand-alone Part D plans may cover the costs, but generally, a Medicare Advantage plan is your best option if this type of drug coverage is important to you.

Your Medicare Advantage plan provider should give clear instructions on how to utilize your allowance towards medications and products.

Oftentimes, your insurance carrier will provide a website or downloadable document that lists the eligible products/medications, instructions to purchase, and the details of the benefit. If you have any issues, feel free to contact a licensed agent here.

Medicare Advantage | Medicare Plan Finder
Medicare Advantage | Medicare Plan Finder

What Is Medicare Advantage OTC Card Coverage?

Certain Medicare Advantage plans offer beneficiaries a unique way to buy over the counter products: a pre-paid card! These cards can be used to purchase most OTC products and medications.

Once you exceed your allowance (average of $50-$100/month for most providers), the card is no longer valid until it is reloaded by your insurance provider. Most plans reload the cards to the set amount on a monthly basis and any previous balance will be lost.

What Can I Buy With My OTC Card?

Before you ask yourself, “What can I buy with my OTC card,” you should first look at your plan’s OTC catalog. Eligible products and medications may vary through your plan provider, but common eligible items include:

  • Acne aids
  • Cough, cold, and flu medications
  • Antibiotic creams
  • Bandages
  • Denture products
  • Digestive aids
  • Ear care
  • First-aid kits
  • Orthopedic support
  • Pain relievers
  • Sleep aids
  • Wart removal

Generally, these items are not covered:

  • Chapstick
  • Deodorant
  • Dietary supplements
  • Mouthwash
  • Perfume
  • Soaps
  • Teeth whitening products
OTC Medicare | Medicare Plan Finder
OTC Medicare | Medicare Plan Finder

Where Can I Use My Medicare Advantage OTC Card?

Stores and locations that accept your card will vary by provider. However, the following stores are included in most plans:

Medicare OTC Card Online Stores

Along with an extensive inventory of over-the-counter products in the stores, many of the major pharmacies listed above also have a mail-order feature so you can have many of your favorite OTC and even prescription items shipped straight to your door! You may be able to use your OTC card at the following online pharmacies*:

*This is not an exhaustive list of online pharmacies.

Medicare OTC Card Activation

Your card should come with information about how to activate it. If you’re unsure how to activate your card, contact your plan’s customer service center and ask about OTC card activation.

How to Check Your OTC Card Balance

For information about how to check your OTC card balance, go to the website your plan gave you. If you’re not sure how to access it, call your plan’s customer service center for help.

How Do I Save on My Prescriptions?

While a Medicare Advantage OTC benefit can certainly be a great perk to have, you’re probably still wondering how you can cut down on your prescription costs.

You may want to start by finding out if you’re eligible for “Extra Help,” a Medicare savings program for prescription drugs. Then, look at your current coverage and make sure you have the right plans for your needs. A licensed agent can help you.

Then, download our free prescription drug savings card. It works in many major pharmacies and is sort of like a coupon. Just show the card when you pick up your prescriptions, and your pharmacist can tell you whether or not your prescriptions can be cheaper with the card. It’s worth a try!

Medicare Plan Finder Tool

How Do I Get Medicare Advantage OTC Coverage and Prescription Drug Coverage?

Are you interested in getting OTC Medicare coverage? Our licensed agents are contracted with most major carriers in your state. There are countless plans that can fit your personal needs and budget all while having the additional benefit of over-the-counter drug coverage.

Already enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan? You may unknowingly have this benefit already, and we want to help you use it. Call us today at 844-431-1832 or fill out this form to get started.

Find Medicare Plans | Medicare Plan Finder
Find Medicare Plans | Medicare Plan Finder

This post was originally published on January 17, 2019, by Kelsey Davis and updated on July 15, 2019, by Troy Frink, and November 12, 2020, by Anastasia Iliou.

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