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Hitting You When it Hurts: The Rising Cost of Prescription Drugs

diet-pills-1328804_640It’s bad enough that you’re on multiple medications. But, now, you have to deal with rising drug prices. It’s estimated that prescription drug prices rose an average of 10 percent in 2015, and they show no signs of stopping. Enough is enough. Here’s how you combat those rising medication costs without sacrificing your health and wellbeing.

What’s Causing The Surge?

According to the AARP Public Policy Institute (PPI), the cost of a market basket of 280 generic drugs commonly used by older Americans fell by 4% in 2013. This is a slow decline — the slowest during any of the prior 7 years. The average annual cost of generics prescribed for chronic conditions is $280 per year.

Experts in the pharmaceutical industry have noticed that prices of generics have been rising. Even pharmacies have been shocked by the rise in prices.

According to Kevin Schweers, a senior vice president of the National Community Pharmacists Association, which represents small independent drugstores. “When we polled our members about a year ago, they were experiencing a rash of dramatic price increases for generic drugs. Some of the rises occurred virtually overnight. And it continued to snowball and impact more and more medications.”

For example, Doxycycline hyclate (100 milligrams), is a commonly prescribed antibiotic. It rose from $20 for 500 capsules to a mind-blowing $1,849 between October 2013 and April 2014.

Glycopyrrolate (20 milliliters), which is used during surgery to prevent a slowed heart rate, spiked from $65 for 10 vials to $1,277 during the same period.

Pravastatin sodium (10 mg), the popular cholesterol drug, spiked from $27 to $196 for a one-year supply.

In some cases, the increase is due to the cost of manufacturing, but that doesn’t explain all of it. Another reason may be mergers and acquisitions of generic drug industry pushing up prices by reducing the competition in the marketplace. According to Aaron Kesselheim, M.D., a Harvard Medical School expert who studies drug pricing, “One of the reasons generic drugs are inexpensive is that there is competition in the market. “When that competition goes away, prices will rise.”

Between 2002 and 2013, the total number of manufacturers who make oral digoxin, a drug used for heart conditions, fell from 8 to just 3. During this time, the cost of the drug rose 637%. And, because it can take more than a year to get through the FDA’s red tape, fewer manufacturers can enter the market fast enough to calm the rising prices.

What You Can Do

Some companies, like Rx Outreach, operate non-profit companies that help lower the cost of drugs by providing access to them at a lower than retail cost for seniors. This will help if you can get hooked up with such a company, your doctor can help you, or your health insurance company will cover the cost of the prescription.

You do have to qualify for the prescription discounts, of course. And, these are largely based on your household size and income level, by state.

If you don’t qualify under a non-profit program, there are still many other things you can do. For example:

Switch To Generics

You can switch to a generic drug. These should cost 80% to 85% less than brand-name drugs. Ask your doctor about generics that could safely replace the brand meds you’re currently taking. Many times, it’s possible and practical. The FDA requires generics to have the same quality and performance as the brand name. But, there may still be some subtle difference between the brand and the generic. If in doubt, ask your doctor.

Find Less Expensive Brand Drugs

Most conditions can be treated with more than one kind of drug. Some of those drugs even work in similar enough ways that you can switch out the drugs and still be fine. The difference is they may have very different costs. Ask your doctor if there are less expensive brand name medications that can treat your condition as effectively as your current medications.

Switch To Mail Order Drugs

Sounds weird, but mail order pharmacies can save you a lot of money. You’ll save on most drugs and get a 3-month supply. Benefit: you don’t have to run back and forth to the pharmacy for your prescriptions.

Find A Medicare Drug Plan That Works

If you’re still paying a lot for your prescription bills, you might need to see if you can find a different drug plan that lowers these costs for you. Use your Medicare Plan Finder to find different plans. You can also speak with a counselor at no charge through your county’s State Health Insurance and Assistance Programs (SHIP) office.

Contact The Manufacturer

Some companies offer direct discount programs to help pay for their drugs. Contact the manufacturer of your drug directly and ask about any discount plans they have. You may be surprised by how much you can save.

Apply for Extra Help

If you’re a low-income household, the Social Security Administration offers a program called “Extra Help With Medicare Prescription Drug Costs.” It’s a program designed to lower the costs related to Medicare prescription drugs.

Emma Craig is a carer for both her elderly parents. She often needs a shoulder to cry on and a caring ear to listen, and has turned to online support groups from others who understand her sadness and frustrations in seeing her parents declining.

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