Americans spend more on drugs than people in any other country and costs continue to rise. In 2016 total drug costs went up 6.3 percent compared with the year before, about three times the rate for other goods and services, according to the Department of Labor. The amount consumers have to pay out of pocket is also rising, from about $25 billion in 2000 to a projected $67 billion in 2025.
How to Pay Less for Your Meds
No one should have to choose between paying for their groceries and paying for their prescriptions. Yet as the burden of high drug costs grow heavier, more Americans say they’re facing that choice and other difficult decisions. Learn why this is happening, how it can be stopped, and what you can do now, today to lower your costs.
Why is that? There are lots of reasons, with lots of players-and with consumers stuck in the middle, says one Ph.D., a pharmacoeconomics professor at a University in the Mid-West.
The players include drug companies that continually raise prices for existing products, saying that the extra profit is needed to bring new drugs to market. It also includes physicians, who too rarely talk with patients about the affordability of the drugs they prescribe. It involves a web of insurers, employers, plus big drugstore chains, and companies called pharmacy benefit managers that act as go-betweens among them all, including politicians in that swamp. Each has its own interests and contributes to making our system so expensive, complicated, and confusing the politicians admit.
President Donald Trump, in his State of the Union address, acknowledge the problem. He promised to direct his administration to make fixing the injustice of high drug prices one of his top priorities.
And a report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, out late last year, identified possible fixes, including allowing the government to directly negotiate prices with drug companies and encouraging greater price transparency. But even its authors noted that industry and political resistance make it unlikely that meaningful reform will come soon.
Meanwhile, some large companies in the healthcare marketplace are trying to tackle the problem on their own. Earlier this year a consortium of 450 hospitals announced plans to make its own supply of drugs that it says cost too much or are in short supply.
And three iconic companies–Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase–say they’re working together to create a healthcare company for their combined 1 million U.S. employees.
slightly less expensive brand of insulin
Consumers have also had to improvise. Chuck Vanderwist eventually worked with his doctors to transition to a slightly less expensive brand of insulin, and a pharmacist tracked down a manufacturer’s coupon that brought his cost down even further, to about $50 a month.
Consumers Fight Back
A Consumer Reports investigation has identified several ways consumers can lower their drug cost. To find these fixes, we talked with pharmacists, drugstore executives, insurance and Medicare experts, and consumers.
My biggest surprise was that more than half patients were being overly medicated on a regular basic.
Additionally, our secret shoppers called more than 100 pharmacies across the U.S., asking questions including “Is this really the best price you can offer?”
Along the way, we gained some surprising–and often counterintuitive–insights. For example, the cost of the same prescription can vary by hundreds of dollars at different pharmacies, even within the same city. And you can sometimes save money by not using your insurance and instead looking for coupons online, shopping around, and paying cash.
To find those savings, you may have to ask pharmacists some direct questions. That’s because they’re sometimes bound by “gag clauses” in contracts with insurers that prohibit them from suggesting cheaper alternatives without first being directly asked by a consumer.