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Why prescription drug prices are rising so sharply

One-third of Americans seeing price hikes for medications that are impacting retirement plans, family life, and health, survey shows

Drugs Money Three Bottles IMG_9792As the pharmaceutical industry and insurance company battle over profits, consumers are reeling from the uncontrolled rise in drug prices.

Nearly one-third of Americans polled by Consumer Reports said they had experienced a drug price hike in the past year, paying a total of $2 billion more for a drug they routinely take.

“Americans are being bled dry by corporate profiteering that is completely legal,” said Lisa Gill, deputy editor, Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs. “And their pocketbook pain is reverberating through virtually every facet of their lives from retirement plans to family time to the essentials of daily living, such as buying groceries.”

In an investigation, Consumer Reports surveyed consumers, and in addition, asked doctors how they handle the issue of medication affordability.

Consumers who were hit with higher drug prices in the last 12 months were more likely to economize in possibly dangerous ways with their health, according to the survey. Consumers said they took the following steps to save money on their medications:

  • Didn’t comply with prescription to save money – 33 percent of all respondents who currently take a prescription drug /47 percent of those who experienced a price increase in their prescription drug.
  • Put off a doctor’s visit because of cost – 18 percent/28 percent.
  • Declined a medical test or procedure because of cost – 14 percent/23 percent.
  • Switched insurance plans for better coverage – 14 percent/20 percent.
  • Didn’t fill a prescription because of cost – 17 percent/30 percent.
  • Took an expired medication – 12 percent/19 percent.
  • Didn’t take a scheduled dosage or a prescribed medication, not at their physicians or pharmacist’s direction, to save money – 10 percent/17 percent.

In the past year, consumers took the following steps to pay for their prescription medications:

  • Spent less on entertainment and dining out – 24 percent of those who currently take a prescription drug/38 percent of those who experienced a price increase.
  • Got an insurance policy that covered their medications – 20 percent/24 percent.
  • Spent less on groceries – 17 percent/31 percent.
  • Used their credit card more often – 15 percent/25 percent.
  • Spent less on family – 14 percent/25 percent.
  • Postponed paying other bills – 11 percent/19 percent.
  • Postponed retirement to maintain their health insurance coverage – 6 percent/10 percent.
  • Took a second job – 4 percent/7 percent.

Only one quarter of those polled said they had a conversation with their practitioner about the cost of their treatment. Of those consumers who did have a conversation, 64 percent said they initiated it.

In Consumer Reports’ survey of internal medicine doctors, the same finding occurred. In a week, doctors said they discuss drug costs with 2.6 out of 10 patients. However, eight out of 10 doctors said they were concerned about their patients’ ability to afford their treatments.

“The ability to afford a medication can have a huge effect on patient compliance,” said Consumer Report’s Chief Medical Adviser Marvin M. Lipman, M.D. “If there are no less costly alternatives, the doctor should go to bat with the insurance company or the drug’s manufacturer on behalf of the patient. Considering that doctors prescribed an estimated 4.4 billion drugs last year, not talking to a patient about cost could be an expensive oversight.

For details on the surveys, see the August issue of Consumer Reports, available at newsstands and libraries, and online at ConsumerReports.org/drugprices.

My next article discusses the five key reasons for the huge rise in drug costs and what Consumer Reports recommends consumers can do about it.

Copyright 2016, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist

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