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The Cost of Staying Alive

December 4, 2018
By Anesa McGregor , Emmetsburg News

Rising costs for patented drugs drive growth of pharmaceutical spending in the U.S., according to the 2017 Health of America report. This report examined the cost of Branded and generic drugs and found a steady increase in overall drug spending between 2010 and 2016. This increase occurred even though inexpensive generic drugs dominated the market.

In 2016, the inexpensive generic drugs represented 82 percent of total prescriptions filled in 2016. A person would expect the large market share of generic drugs to drive down overall prescription drug spending, but this has not happened.

Taking a deeper look at two types of branded prescription drugs branded patent-protected drugs and branded specialty drugs the study determined that spending has accelerated rapidly over the last eight years. Generic drugs kept their large market share, rising to 83 percent of the total of prescriptions filled, while the overall amount spent on drugs increased two percent in 2017. During the same time period, spending on both branded patent-protected drugs and branded specialty drugs rose more rapidly at five percent and 10 percent, respectively from 2016 to 2017. These trends show the underlying cost drivers in the prescription drug market and predict possible surges in overall drug costs in the future.

Looking at the differences between generic drugs and branded drugs, it's hard to understand the extreme difference in costs. A generic drug has the same active chemical component as an existing branded drug in dosage form, administration, safety and quality. Generic drugs do not carry a brand name and are typically sold at a low cost. A branded patent-protected drug is sold under a brand name and legally protected in the U.S. from being made, used or sold by other manufacturers for a specific period. A branded specialty drug is sold under a brand name and used to treat complex, chronic health conditions, often requiring special handling, administration or monitoring.

As you can see, the cost of the name brand prescription drugs keeps the pharmaceutical companies in business and there is no competition or reason to keep the prices lower until the patent runs out. It is almost a guarantee that the cost for single-source drugs with no generic alternatives will continue to increase at an alarming rate. Here are some examples of this cost trend. Humira is used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions. From 2016 to 2017 the total prescriptions percent change was seven percent; however, the total spending percent change for the same time was and increase of 20 percent. Stelara is used to treat Crohn's disease. The total prescription change was 38 percent while the spending change rose by 50 percent. Finally, Keytruda, which is used in the treatment of cancer rose in prescriptions 162 percent and 168 percent in cost. It is apparent something needs to change so people are able to afford the medications they need to stay alive and still be able to pay bills, buy food and afford gas to get to work to make money to purchase medication.

I never understood my mother when she would talk about the cost of her medications. She had Medicare and Supplemental Insurance and yet still paid $200 to $300 a month for her medications. I know there were times she went without a medication or two so that she could purchase LP for heat or buy groceries.

I have a better understanding what she was talking about today. Until my insurance kicks in my medications are over $600 a month, the insulin I take alone is $398 every month. It is scary to think what will happen when I reach retirement age and live on a social security check. Who knows, the future of prescription drugs needs to have a dramatic change to the way medications are priced or the future may not come for some.



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