Retin-A (tretinoin) and Insurance Coverage: It’s Complicated.

We’ve been there. After decades of ignoring your mother’s advice, you decide to go to the dermatologist. You’re getting a little older and it seems wise to invest long-term into your skin, right? 

The dermatologist prescribes tretinoin (the generic version of Retin-A), which works by affecting the growth of skin cells. The medication was initially used to treat acne but is now often prescribed to fight wrinkles, discoloration, sun damage, skin texture, and more. It is commonly referred to as “the fountain of youth.” Who doesn’t like that?

But that’s before you see the price: more than $100! Thinking this is wrong, you call your insurance company. But they don’t cover it.

Our Honeybee Health pharmacists are here to offer answers to some of the most common questions we receive regarding tretinoin coverage (or lack thereof!).

Why is tretinoin often not covered by insurance companies?

Before we continue, we’re not implying that there’s no chance your insurance company covers this medication. Some do! 

But typically, tretinoin is classified as a “lifestyle drug,” which is a drug that a patient takes to improve their life in some way (i.e. function or appearance). This is in contrast to a drug you take because you need to manage an illness or it is medically necessary. In addition to tretinoin, this group includes Viagra (sildenafil), Propecia (finasteride), Botox, and more. 

In most cases, private healthcare companies aren’t open to paying for medications in the “lifestyle” category. They may offer you a discount, but that’s not a given.

I still want my tretinoin though. What do I do?

Tretinoin is typically priced higher than many of the other medications you may take so, to a degree, the price is unfortunately just part of the deal. 

That said, shop around. At Honeybee Health, we sell tretinoin without insurance. Prices range, with the cheapest option coming in as a gel for $63. 

The good news is that once you buy the medication, you’ll have it for a while. Many people find the cream (or gel) causes sensitivity, especially to sun exposure. For this reason, patients should only use a pea-sized amount of the cream at night and adjust as needed. This means you’re not going to be running out of the tube any time soon!

What are my other options? 

Tretinoin is not for everyone. You must use it carefully, and you must always apply sunscreen in the morning after you use it. 

If you’re not sure you want to take the plunge, check out the countless OTC tretinoin options. It’s true that the prescription options are much stronger, but it’s perfectly fine to dabble in the OTC world before deciding whether or not tretinoin is right for you. And, as always, consult your doctor before stopping or starting any medications. 

Dr. Jessica Nouhavandi

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