I just spent a delightful weekend with my sister who visited me from Chicago. As we hiked, ate in some great restaurants and watched agreed upon TV shows, we discussed family, politics, the Middle East and medicine. (She is a scientist.) Like most of my patients, she complained about the cost of medication. When I returned to the office and scanned the medical journals, lo and behold, the April 5th issue of JAMA had a wonderful series of graphs that visualize recent trends in prescription drug costs. Public health experts at the Kaiser Family Foundation analyzed data which was then published through the “infograph” page; I’ll go from the graphic to the written and share the stats in this newsletter…
Prescription drugs spending rose from 2013 to 2014 by 11.4%.
Costly new specialty drugs such as hepatitis C and cancer drugs are considered the major drivers of spending for medications. They account for 30% of the increase from 2013.
Medicare’s share of national prescription drug spending rose from 2% in 2004 to 29% in 2014
Nearly one in four people in the United States taking prescription drugs report difficulty affording them.(However, 45% felt it was very easy to obtain and afford their drugs and 27% said it was somewhat easy.)
Many specialty drugs are priced higher in the United States than in other developed countries. Examples that were given were:
Humira (A medication for inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis). The average price for a one-month supply in Switzerland is $881. The average price in the US is $2246.
Copaxon (A medication for multiple sclerosis) The average price for a one month supply in Switzerland is $1357 and in the US it’s $3903.
The last graph was titled, “Most People in the United States Favor Action to Keep Drug Prices Down”. The survey found that 86% want a report on how prices are set by pharmaceutical companies. Eighty three percent want to allow Medicare to negotiate the prices. Seventy six percent of those surveyed feel there should be a limit on charges for high cost drugs. And 72% stated we should be able to import drugs from Canada.
I certainly agree with all these suggestions. The good news is that 80% of prescribed medications are now generic and should be much cheaper. There is a pharmaceutical maze out there. Newer expensive drugs may be virtually the same as older ones, but direct to consumer advertisements and offers of free samples to physician offices create a physician and patient desire to use the newest and “best” medication. (But after the huge sums of money invested by the pharmaceutical companies, the medication may indeed be the best.) Hopefully scientists, public health officials, insurance plans, Medicare, government and the prescribing doctors will figure out how to make sure that these new drugs are not only proven to be better but that they will be affordable to those who need it in our own country.
We may need a prescription genie to grant this wish!