What You CAN Do About Prescription Drug Costs

What American’s Think About Prices and What You Can Do 

                    “Corporations now spend at least $2.6 billion a year lobbying Congress—more than the $2 billion taxpayers spend funding the House and the Senate.”  The Week, July 31, 2015

What American’s think about pharmaceutical costs:

This August The Kaiser Family Foundation (www.kff.org) and its Health Tracking poll component, asked Americans about prescription drug costs. They found:

  • 72% of all Americans thought drug costs are unreasonable;
  • 74% think drug companies put profit before people;
  • 62% value the role prescription drugs play;
  • 42% believe the drugs developed in the last two decades have made lives better (4 in 10 of that 42% said much better);
  • 54% of all Americans reported taking  prescription drugs;
  • 72% of those taking drugs say:
    •  they are easy to afford;
    • 24%  have a difficult time paying for them;
    • 33%  with low incomes say they have a difficult time paying;
    • 43% who are in worse health say they have difficulty paying.

86% favor proposed policy actions to lower drug costs that have bipartisan support.

  • 86% believe drug companies should release information to the public on how they set their prices;
  • 83% favor having the federal government negotiate with drug companies to get lower prices for people on Medicare.

The majority believe these strategies would be effective because of their perception of the high costs of medications.

In comparison to other sectors favorable views are:

  • 78%  doctors
  • 58% food manufacturers
  • 48%  banks
  • 42%  pharmaceutical companies

For the complete report see: http://kff.org/health-costs/poll-finding/kaiser-health-tracking-poll-august-2015/

Here’s What You Can Do

Medicare is one of the largest health systems in the country. It accounts for 22% of all health care spending in the US.   The new Medicare Part D is in addition to that 22%.   Commercial insurers tend to follow Medicare coverage and practices. Therefore, if we hope to have influence about the prescription drugs costs, we can lobby our congressional delegations congress to allow Medicare to negotiate prices with drug companies. The Veterans Administration and Medicaid can.     

Here’s What We Know About Senators and Congressional Representatives:

  1. They pay attention to what their constituents think.

Our votes give them their jobs, anyone can give them money.

  1. They pay attention to personal letters and letters to the editors in local papers.
  2. They pay attention to local opinion polls.

Therefore, to have an impact:

  • Write individual letters or send e-mails in your own words to your Senator and Congressman/woman. 
  • Write brief letters to the editor in local papers.  (250-300 words max) 
  • Join with local non-partisan groups, such as faith communities or non-partisan civic organizations.
  • Don’t rely exclusively on on-line petitions.  They don’t always show your Congressional District or your state.
  • Use recognized data, such as this poll from Kaiser Family Foundation and other foundations, national news services and non-profit organizations that cannot lobby.
  • Use your own words or examples to illustrate your point, e.g., co-payments costs; cost burden on your family; and perhaps your annual medical expenses—such as premiums, co-payments and deductibles.  

One group that is working on this issue nationally is:  http://www.csrxp.org/  It is a national coalition of employers, unions, associations and consumer groups. Only with a ground swell from individuals or respected groups can we turn the tide on drug costs.

Some recent things I learned:

  •  Someone I know had transfusions cost $7,200 per cancer treatment, she qualified for Medicaid which covered the cost.
  • Another had a treatment for a rare kidney disorder that cost $35,000 per infusion which were needed   every two weeks.  Medicare allowable coverage was $19,000 per treatment.
  • The Wall Street Journal reported that since 2008 the price of brand name drugs increased by 127% while the consumer price index (a marker of national inflation) only rose 11%.
  • One drug company with no competitors increased the cost of a single vial for one injection of a drug  that quickly lowers blood pressure from $258/injection to $806/injection—a 212% increase
  • In 2013, one drug company bought another, combined their two products for the same condition and raised the cost of one month’s supply from $138 to $959—a 597% increase.  In August 2015, they raised the price of the same drug to $1,678 for a month’s supply.
  • Express Scripts, which covers millions of insured members in pharmacy plans, said the average member prescription costs climbed to $668.75/year for traditional drugs and 30.9% for specialty drugs.
  • IMSHealth, an international data tracking and information company, said that if the current US spending on prescription medications of $329 billion per year increases at the 13.1% a year over the next 20 years, the cost of prescription medication would come to $3.8 trillion. Spending at 13.1% is unsustainable and puts patients at risk for personal bankruptcy, especially for cancer patients.  http://www.imshealth.com/portal/site/imshealth

Other examples abound.  If you have a personal example, use yours in your letters and e-mails to Congress or letters to the editor. 

Will this work?  I don’t know. What I do know is—if we don’t act, nothing will change. It’s your choice.  

For more on this pharmaceutical marketing and pricing:  Selling Sickness, Ray Monynihan and Alan Cassels     Kathleen O’Connor© August 23, 2015

About Kathleen

Kathleen O’Connor: 30+ year health care consumer advocate, non-profit executive and author. For more information about Kathleen, please see “About” on the main content bar above.

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