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Prescription drug prices climbing and some not able to fill prescriptions, survey shows

Prescription Drug Bottles Wrapped With MoneyTwenty-five percent of Americans who regularly take a prescription drug say they now pay more out of pocket than they did 12 months ago for at least one of those medications, according to a survey by Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs.

Some of the price increases are substantial. Twenty-four percent of regular prescription takers said they payed $50 or more out of pocket for a single prescription this year than they did for the same medication last year. Fifteen percent paid $100 more this year for one of their prescriptions than they did for the same one in 2016.

“Those are big, burdensome increases for nearly 28 million consumers with very little indication that the problem of rising costs will be solved anytime soon,” said Lisa Gill, deputy editor of Consumer Reports’ prescription drug program, Best Buy Drugs. “Consumers are seeing significant out-of-pocket cost increases across the board – from generics to treat common conditions to newer drug therapies.”

The vast majority, 74 percent, of regular users of prescription medications who pay more now say they didn’t receive any notification in advance that their costs could go up. While insurance companies can drop coverage of a drug or change the level of coverage, they’re required to give consumers advance notice. People with Medicare Part D coverage, for example, need to receive 60-days’ notice of any coverage changes.

Those are changes that can have a big impact on consumers: If your drug gets moved from a lower, cheaper “tier” of coverage, where you may only pay a $10 or $15 copay, to a higher, more expensive tier, where you may have to pay $40, $50, or more, you could be paying for big cost increases over time.

“Those changes can be huge for consumers, resulting in hundreds of dollars extra per year just for a single medication,” said Gill.

Consumer Reports asked regular prescription medication users, “Which if any of the following did you do when you found out that your out-of-pocket cost increased?” Here’s how Americans responded:

  • Didn’t do anything but pay the higher price, 37 percent.
  • Asked the pharmacist or doctor for a less expensive drug, 35 percent.
  • Asked the pharmacist for a lower price on the same drug, 22 percent.
  • Called the insurance company to see if it would cover a greater portion of the cost, 20 percent.
  • Used a discount coupon, 17 percent.
  • Shopped at another pharmacy for a lower price, 15 percent.
  • Didn’t fill the prescription, 14 percent.
  • Shopped online for a lower price, 11 percent.

Almost a quarter of regular prescription medication users said they’re “not at all confident” that they’ll have access to affordable medicine in the future.

Consumer Reports Best Drugs for Less recommends nine ways to save on your medications:

  • Talk to your doctor about costs. Speak up if the cost of your treatment is important to you.
  • Ask for generics, which can cost up to 90 percent less than brand name drugs.
  • Compare insurance plans during “open enrollment,” usually in the fall. Don’t get stuck with a plan that no longer covers your medications.
  • Try Costco. If you’re paying cash, Best Buy Drugs found that Costco consistently offered among the lowest retail prices.
  • Check your local pharmacy. Consumer Reports found some real bargains at local independent pharmacies.
  • Consider $4/$10 discount generics. Stores like Walmart and Sam’s Club offer hundreds of common generics for $4 for a 30-day supply and $10 for a 90-day supply if you don’t use insurance.
  • Always ask: “Is this your lowest price?” Costco told Consumer Reports that pharmacists there can’t offer customers with Medicare a lower cash price unless the customer asks.
  • Get a 90-day prescription. For drugs you take monthly, it can be cheaper to get a three-month prescription and avoid a co-pay or two.
  • Look online. If you’re paying out of pocket, check GoodRx.com to learn its “fair price” and use that to negotiate a lower price. Consider using discount coupons available at Blinkhealth.com, GoodRx.com, or LowestMed.com.

Consumer Reports’ prescription drug program, Best Buy Drugs, evaluates prescription drugs based on a scientific review of safety, effectiveness, and cost. In its newly updated guide, Best Drugs for Less, Consumer Reports gives savings advice to help consumers purchase their needed medications at prices they can afford. The free guide is available in English and Spanish online at CRBestDrugsforLess.org.

Copyright 2017, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist

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