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Make Ends Meet: Lowering prescription prices

Published: Jul. 20, 2021 at 6:17 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 20, 2021 at 8:44 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Americans spend more on prescription drugs than anyone else in the world. A report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows many Americans, especially older adults, are taking more prescription drugs than ever before.

The prices of those drugs are rising, too. In a survey done by AARP, one-fifth of respondents shared they had not filled a doctor’s prescription in the past two years because they could not afford it.

“When we took a look at the prices of widely used and brand name prescription drugs, what we found is that they are growing at twice the rate of inflation in 2020,” Leigh Purvis, the director of healthcare costs and access in AARP’s Public Policy Institute, said.

Purvis said research shows that brand name drug prices have been growing faster than general inflation for more than a decade.

“Unfortunately, we really are living with the consequences of not having anything in the U.S. healthcare system that would prevent drug companies from setting very high prices and then increasing them any time they want,” Purvis said.

The 2020 drug price increase was the slowest average annual hike since 2006, she said. The growth may have been slower, but it was still more than two times faster than general inflation.

“There’s some external factors that may be driving it, but again, we’re not sure because there’s no legislative change that required them to stop increasing their prices as quickly,” Purvis said. “So again, the concern is they will go back to business as usual soon.”

Unlike in other countries, the U.S. government does not directly regulate or negotiate the price of drugs. Instead, U.S. drug companies set their own prices, but insurers and pharmacies determine how much patients pay out-of-pocket.

“Research has consistently shown that U.S. brand name drug prices are three to four times, if not higher, than the prices paid in other countries,” Purvis said.

She said there are steps that each person can take to try to help lower the cost of their prescription medication:

  • Talk to a healthcare provider
  • Find out if a lower cost generic medication, brand, or non-prescription medication is an option
  • Find out if mail order is available or cheaper
  • Check to see if a pharmaceutical company offers Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs) for prescriptions
  • Look into getting Medicare Part D prescription plans if eligible
  • Look for discount apps or coupons for prescription cost

“Oftentimes there is a less expensive alternative you can take that will reduce your cost considerably,” Purvis said.

She also said one of the most important things a person can do to help reduce the cost of prescriptions is to make some noise and get involved with the policy changes in their state.

“I really don’t think that policy makers can hear from their constituents enough on this issue,” Purvis said.

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