Are Americans Dying Because Drug Prices are Too High?

 Today, the AARP reported that brand name drug prices increased by 41% between 2006-2009, approximately three times the rate of inflation. In the New York Times article announcing the study, AARP refers to the price increases as “relentless”. The media often reports on studies about drug price increases because it’s an issue of great frustration for millions of Americans; and this blog has presented the facts on how tens of millions of Americans skip medication due to cost. But what are the public health ramifications of high drug costs? (more…)

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Last week, Roger Bate, an economist and expert in counterfeit drugs with the American Enterprise Institute, wrote an article called “Google’s Ad Freedom Wrongly Curtailed.” Bate’s piece shows how banning safe foreign online pharmacies from advertising on Google and elsewhere is not only unethical but will lead to sub-optimal health outcomes. As we wrote at the end of August, the non-prosecution agreement between the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Google, in which the search engine was fined $500 million for allowing rouge Canadian sites to advertise controlled substances, is good because it forces Google to now block dangerous rogue online pharmacies from advertising. At the same time, however, it’s bad because it appears to prevent Google from allowing safe and affordable Canadian-based online pharmacies form advertising as well.

The DOJ/Google settlement appears to reflect the false rhetoric espoused by the U.S. government and pharmaceutical industry that only U.S. online pharmacies can be safe. Bate knows this is not true based on his own empirical studies, which found that properly credentialed non-U.S. online pharmacies sell genuine medication at a lower cost and require a prescription.  By blocking safe Canadian pharmacies from advertising to Americans on Google, it is more difficult for needy Americans to find them. Bate writes:

Google’s current policy removes the potentially lethal sellers, but by disallowing credentialed foreign sites from advertising it will harm public health. The tens of millions of uninsured Americans who cannot afford their drugs will go online to circumvent this obstruction. If they are unaware of pharmacychecker.com’s credentialing, they will play Russian roulette and may end up buying a lethal product.

With media outlets and politicians inundated with a voracious pharmaceutical industry public relations assault that seeks to paint all non-U.S. online pharmacies as rogue, the victim here is the American seeking affordable medication online because he or she can’t afford it here at home. Bate wrote: “What is surprising is that independent groups, like Consumer Reports and AARP, have bought into this industry rhetoric or have failed to properly explain to their members that foreign doesn’t necessarily mean dangerous.” (more…)

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PharmacyChecker.com was mentioned this week in a U.S. News and World Report article entitled How to Cut Your Drug Costs. Listed among other effective ways to save money on prescription drugs, the article notes that PharmacyChecker “compares prices of mail-order pharmacies, and can help you find the lowest posted prices.

How to Cut Your Drug Costs reminds readers that buying drugs from Canada – and elsewhere overseas – is technically illegal, but it quotes AARP: “Over the past decade millions of Americans have ignored U.S. law to seek cheaper prices from Canada, most often by mail order.” Notably, AARP found Canadian prices for Lipitor to be about a third less than they are here in the U.S. The fact that the FDA has (to our knowledge) never prosecuted an individual for importing a three-month supply of personal, non-controlled drugs with a valid prescription, means that they too understand the importance of access to safe and affordable medication. (more…)

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Last month the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced a no contest grant to be awarded to the National Consumers League (NCL) to examine the problem of prescription adherence. The problem is one we discuss almost every week on this blog: Americans are not taking their prescribed medication. Therefore, when we came across an FDA initiative aimed at tackling the problem we were intrigued.

In the FDA announcement we expected to find mention of some of the known causes for Americans not taking their prescribed medications, such as cost, which has previously been proven as the number one reason Americans skip prescriptions. Amazingly, there was not one mention of drug prices or cost in the announcement. In choosing NCL as the recipient of the $40,000 grant it appeared that FDA might be on the right track After all, NCL knows from its own commissioned study that drug prices are the main reason Americans don’t take their medications. NCL has brought together “stakeholders” from government, non-profit organizations and the private sector. This sounds like a good idea. (more…)

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Drug Importation Bill Introduced by Senator Olympia Snowe

Last May, we reported that AARP honored Senator Olympia Snowe (R- Maine) for her ongoing advocacy of policies and initiatives that seek to improve the lives of Americans age 50-plus. The award specifically mentioned her efforts to make safe drug importation legal and more available to help more Americans afford their medication. In our post on this recognition, we predicted that the issue of access to safe drugs would persist in the aftermath of the new healthcare legislation, and we’re now happy to announce that last week Senator Snowe put legalizing drug importation back on the Senate’s agenda.

Senator Snowe has introduced legislation that would amend the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic act to facilitate drug importation that would effectively lower prescription drug prices. Additionally, the bill would increase U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspections of international manufacturing plants. S. 319, the proposed Pharmaceutical Market Access and Drug Safety Act of 2011, is similar to Senator Snowe’s co-sponsored bill from 2009, also known as the Dorgan Amendment. For more information on the Senator’s past support for personal drug importation, see our post Canadian Pharmacies and Personal Drug Importation Play Critical Role in Greater Healthcare Benefits for Americans. (more…)

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Just in time for the 2011 open enrollment period, UnitedHealth Group Inc. has announced that it will allow its AARP MedicareRx and AARP MedicareComplete Medicare Advantage prescription drug plan participants to purchase 30-day supplies of many generic drugs from Kroger and Safeway chain stores for just $2; 90-day supplies may cost just $4. Between these two pharmacy groups, 397 generic drugs are covered in the program, and both chain stores offer the program via mail-order pharmacy (Prescription Solutions) as well.

Simvastatin, the generic for Zocor – a cholesterol lowering drug, and Metoprolol succinate, the generic of the high blood pressure drug Toprol, are just two of many $2 drugs found on the monthly supply list. You can find a 90-day supply of Ibuprofren 400 – 800mg for just $5. To see which other generics are listed, visit the Pharmacy Saver information and search page. (more…)

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As we previously reported, nearly 3 million seniors will be forced to change their Medicare drug plan this year due to the new health reform law. Now, in addition to the millions who have to, many may voluntarily change plans if their premiums go up, which is likely. A new report from Avalere Health, a private research firm, shows that among the top Medicare plans, premiums are expected raise an average of 10%.

In general, Medicare officials say the average premium should only raise 1%, but on the high end it could be up to 43%! Enrollees of the First Health Part D Premier Plus plan offered by Coventry Health Care will see monthly payments rise from $64 to $91 – that’s over $300 for the year. Another startling change will be for members of the AARP MedicareRX Saver plan, the second most popular among seniors. These enrollees will be switched to the largest plan, AARP MedicareRX Preferred, and will see, on average, a 15% raise in premiums. (more…)

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New AARP Report Shows Dramatic Brand Name Drug Price Hikes

AARP, the leading advocacy group for America’s seniors, released a new study confirming that brand name drug prices were way up – 8.3 % higher on average – in 2009. These large increases occurred during a year  when the consumer price index was actually down by .4% . The report also finds that over the past five years, brand-name drug costs have increased by 41.5%, during which inflation only rose by 13%. Noteworthy in this report is that its authors, responding to pharmaceutical industry critics who contested that prior AARP reports only looked at manufacturer prices, derived the current findings by calculating the average retail prices of over 200 popular brand name drugs.

(more…)

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Canadian and Other International Online Pharmacy Prices Decrease – Americans Can Save 73% On Average

In sharp contrast to major increases in U.S. brand name drug prices, prices on brand name medication from online pharmacies dispensing from abroad have decreased over the past 18 months according to our most recent price analysis. Looking at ten popular brand name medications, prices on eight products decreased by 7% to 26% and increased for only two products. During the same period, U.S. pharmacy prices increased by 7% to 24%, or an average 15%, excluding Prevacid which dropped in price due to generic competition. The increase in U.S. prices is consistent with figures recently reported by AARP. American consumers can now save on average 73% on brand name drugs purchased from Canadian or other international online pharmacies compared to domestic bricks and mortar pharmacies. For details click here.

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