Nearly 84% of the elderly take a prescription medication regularly. Each year we pay 10% to 17% more than the previous year for our medication, which is a rate higher than the rate of inflation and even higher than the overall rise in cost of healthcare.
Why is this happening and what can we do about it? Last month I pondered answers to these questions with our state legislatures on a forum sponsored by the Center for Health Services Research at University of Tennessee.
Drug expenditure is rising due to three major reasons. First the number of prescriptions over the past decade has climbed up by 70% – in part due to a larger pool of elderly patients and new drugs and treatable diseases.
Second, the unit costs of drugs have ballooned at three times the rate of inflation over the past decade. An average older American taking three prescription medications is likely paying $176 more than they did five years ago.
Third and last reason for higher drug costs is newer and more expensive drugs. Though some of these drugs are more effective, most newer drugs replace others within the same drug group and cost nearly twice as much more.
The options of solutions to contain drug costs are not simple or easy. State Medicaid program has dispensing limits to the number of prescriptions. For example Mississippi Medicaid limits four brand-name drugs and unlimited generic drugs. Other options include preferred drug lists, cost sharing and disease management programs.
The option most beneficial to patients and least attractive to drug manufacturers is a drug pricing program that will provide drugs with a substantial discount. Yet, this is a tough pill to swallow – politically for the law makers.
If all fails we can reimport our drugs from Canada at 10-30% lower cost. This is what Connecticut and Rhode Island residents are doing since their states have passed legislation allowing to do so.
Prescription drugs are a way of life for us, and they are saving lives. We just need to find a cheaper way to live this way of life.