You can't avoid the rapidly rising
costs of prescription drugs. Even if you have insurance coverage,
costs are increasingly being passed on to consumers, as employers
raise premiums, drop insurance coverage or shift to high-deductible
plans without drug coverage.
The battle to control drug costs will escalate even
further as drug companies introduce cutting-edge remedies into the
market that promise astonishing results at a truly jaw-dropping
cost. That new cancer drug that could prolong your life might not
do you much good if the insurance company won't cover its $100,000-a-year
Contrast the bright hopes that such medical breakthroughs
promise patients with the many new, but only slightly improved,
brand-name drugs that offer treatment for ulcers, high blood pressure
and allergies at many times the cost of generic or over-the-counter
medicines that produce almost the same results. No wonder consumers
It's easy to blame the drug companies, the government
and retail drug outlets for the hype, high costs and misleading
information about prescription drugs. But you can fight back.
"Any patient on maintenance medication needs
to openly communicate with his or her physician not only about the
prescribed drug and what it is supposed to do, but also about your
ability to pay," says Mike Patton, executive director of the
Illinois Pharmacists Association. "Too often, these conversations
don't happen. But consumers really need to take control of their
own health care and find out if there are more affordable alternatives."
Opening a dialogue with your doctor is just the first
step. You also need to discuss potential alternative medications
with your pharmacist and take advantage of Web sites and services
that help you compare the costs of prescription drugs from one outlet
to the next. Studies estimate that shopping around can save you
anywhere from 30 percent to 50 percent on your prescription drug
Why drugs cost so much
While the percentage increase in the cost of prescription drugs
is slowing somewhat, drug prices are still rising faster than overall
consumer prices. Between 1995 and 2003, the cost of prescription
drugs rose at double-digit rates from year to year, according to
the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit foundation that provides
health care information and analysis.
Factors behind cost increases include a jump in the
number of prescriptions being written, the increased use of brand-name
drugs and sheer price markups on the part of drug makers, says Chris
Robbins, CEO of Arxcel, a prescription benefit management firm.
"Higher drug utilization has driven new drugs
to market, drugs have fewer side effects, people are getting older
and we are treating illness more aggressively."
Drug companies spend an average of $802 million to
bring the typical drug to market, according to the Tufts Center
for the Study of Drug Development. Costs are also affected by drug
company sales, advertising and marketing efforts and pharmacy markups.
Recent breakthrough biotechnology drugs can cost insurers and patients
from $2,000 to $3,000 per month, Robbins says.