One in four Americans say they now pay more out of pocket for at least one of their prescription medications than they did a year ago—and it's a trend that researchers don't see stopping any time soon.
The findings come from a recent Consumer Reports survey which polled 1,000 people nationwide who regularly take prescription drugs; 25 percent of whom reported an increase how much they pay at the pharmacy now than they did 12 months ago. Some of the increases were drastic: people paid as much as $100 more for a single prescription.
"Those are big, burdensome increases for nearly 28 million consumers with very little indication that rising costs will be solved anytime soon," said Lisa Gill, deputy editor of Consumer Reports' prescription drug program, Best Buy Drugs, in a statement.
That 28 million figure comes from the nationally representative 1,000-person survey, extrapolated to the estimated 110 million regular prescription drug users across the US. Some people who saw a price increase just ate the extra cost (37 percent), asked their pharmacist or doctor for a less expensive drug (35 percent), or asked their insurance company if they'd cover more of the cost (20 percent), but about 14 percent chose not to fill their prescription at all. By Consumer Reports' estimates, that means 3.8 million Americans might be going without their necessary medications.
Nearly 75 percent of those who had to pay more didn't even receive a notification in advance of the price increases and, worst of all, about 24 percent of regular prescription medication users said they're "not at all confident" that they'll have access to affordable medicine in the future.
The sad fact about prescription drugs is that they're priced like cars: the manufacturer sets a higher sticker price than it knows people will pay. Then there's a middle man—a pharmacy benefit manager (PBM)—who actually negotiates a price agreement between drug company, the insurance company, and the pharmacy filling your prescription. That's why the same drug could cost you different prices at different pharmacies or with different insurance carriers. "So consumers are actually in the center of a battle between insurance companies and drug companies, and the way that they do business," Gill told NBC News.
Government intervention could take the retail price of drugs down; but that doesn't seem likely in the US (at least not in the next four years, as Trump plans to further deregulate the healthcare industry but he's also been vocal about high drug prices so who knows!). Until then, Consumer Reports recommends nine ways to save on your medications, including buying your prescription drugs at Costco, which CR's Best Buy Drugs found consistently had the lowest retail prices and asking for a three-month supply instead of a monthly one to save on co-pay costs. Also, the age-old advice, "It never hurts to ask," rings true here, too—speaking to your doctor about costs, generic options, or simply asking the pharmacist upon checkout if the drug is already at its lowest price can save you some bucks.
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