Millions of Americans do not have insurance that covers prescription medications. They are being hammered by rapidly rising drug costs.
What makes these skyrocketing prices so painful is that they come at a time when the economy as a whole is in the doldrums. So many people have lost their jobs and their health insurance that they can no longer afford their medicine.
A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) documents the increases. In many instances, prices surged from 100 to 500 percent. That’s bad enough, but 26 brand-name prescription drugs were up more than 1000 percent.
Drug companies have been especially cruel in some of the choices they have made. With so many people out of work and worried about their finances, you might think that the pharmaceutical industry would cut them some slack when it comes to medications for symptoms of anxiety or depression. Au contraire.
Roughly one third of the big price increases were for medications to treat nervous system disorders. For example, some of the brands that made the GAO list of extraordinary price increases include Abilify, Adderall, Ambien, Lyrica and Zyprexa. Others are antibiotics such as Biaxin, Levaquin or Sumycin, or heart medications such as Inderal, Lanoxin or Lipitor.
The GAO report acknowledges that even though there are more than 400 drugs that have seen extraordinary price increases, this is a very small percentage of all the drugs on the market. Nevertheless, it has a big impact overall. Drug spending has risen roughly 10 percent a year for the last decade. This raises costs for insurers, hospitals and ultimately for patients.
Some pharmaceutical manufacturers maintain that competition and manufacturing challenges account for the increased prices. Other experts speculate that the firms may be trying to beat a health care reform deadline.
Switching to a generic drug, if it’s available, can save a lot of money. Some people find, however, that the substitute is less effective: “My husband has been taking Ambien to sleep for 15 years. We recently moved and switched pharmacies. The prescription was filled with a different generic and he went from sleeping like a log to tossing and turning all night.
“Today he called the pharmacy and the pharmacist told him that he was probably just getting used to it (after 15 years!). Then my husband called his doctor and got a prescription for name-brand Ambien. It cost $290 for a 30-day supply!
“That just seems unfair. Over the years we have taken many generic prescriptions and given them to our kids without ever suspecting a problem. I don’t think the pharmacies and the drug companies should be making all of their decisions based solely on the bottom line when dealing with the health of their patrons.”
To learn how to use generic drugs wisely, along with ten tips for economizing at the pharmacy, we offer our Guide to Saving Money on Medicines.