The Rising Cost of Prescription Drugs

If you’re like many Americans, the rising cost of prescription drugs may be costing you your health. In particular, seniors living on a fixed income with no insurance are finding it difficult to pay for necessary prescriptions out-of-pocket, and as a result, may be failing to receive the treatment they need to stay healthy. Often, the struggle can put a big strain on seniors’ finances.

But why are prescription drug prices so high, especially when most people who require medication are usually not in a financial position that allows them to afford the full price tag? The real reasons are more complicated than what you might suspect, but one thing’s for certain – drug prices have been skyrocketing.

The reason that is most often touted (by the drug companies, of course) for the high price of drugs is research and development (R&D) costs. The drug companies contest that the only way to pay for the development of new life-saving drugs – that will improve the lives of millions of Americans – is through profits from current drug sales. The high prices, they say, are merely a reflection of the spending that is necessary for the creation of newer, better drugs.

But is this the truth? Are drug companies using a large percentage of current prescription drug sales to fund R&D? If so, are the new drugs under development truly going to improve the health of the people who need them most? Sadly, this doesn’t appear to be the case.

In reality, drug companies spend more on advertising, lobbying and political contributions than they do on research and development. Most of the money you pay for prescription medication ends up in the pockets of marketers and politicians, so that you can be convinced that you need the “newer” and “better” drugs that are under development.

In addition, research and development tends to focus on more “marketable” types of drugs that the drug companies can sell to the largest amounts of people. How many times have you seen advertisements for a drug that can help alleviate such serious medical conditions as social anxiety disorder and seasonal allergies? Unfortunately, this means that most large drug companies tend to neglect the development of life-saving drugs for more serious conditions, as the numbers are not there to rake in high profits.

Developing new allergy or anxiety drugs, however, does not require massive amounts of money, as these drugs have already been developed. Neither does rehashing previously developed drugs to be marketed for a new ailment. Usually the newer drugs under “development” aren’t new at all. So even the money that is spent on R&D, it can be argued, is an unnecessary expense driven by the market more than by the country’s medical needs.

Unfortunately for the consumer, all the money spent on advertising rather than development, and providing drug information to physicians about specific new drugs that need to be marketed, makes it very likely that you will end up paying more money than you should. Also, because your doctor is only provided with information on the latest and “greatest” drugs, he/she will be more likely to prescribe you the more expensive drugs. Perhaps surprisingly, there are older versions of drugs on the market that work just as well as their updated counterparts (sometimes better) as well as generic versions of brand name drugs that come at a significantly reduced cost. Of course, the drug companies do not market these drugs and do all they can to keep generic drugs off the shelves for as long as possible.

That’s another place your money goes when you buy prescription drugs – lawyers. Drug companies spend a lot of money paying for court cases to extend the patents of certain drugs. Even though the cases are often lost in the end, court processes can take months to resolve – buying more time for the drug companies to be the sole profiteers of a particular drug. When the patent on a drug runs out, other companies are allowed to create and sell a generic version of the drug. It is usually sold for a lower price, which takes customers away from the brand name and reduces that drug company’s profits. In the end, patents are often extended anyway because the drug company finds a new application for the drug, thus artificially extending the life of the patent and keeping generics off the shelves. You end up paying more because a less expensive generic alternative is not available and you are forced to shell out for the higher priced brand name drug instead.

For the lucky people who have insurance that covers the cost of their drugs, this may be indirectly allowing the drug companies to charge more than they would if everyone had to pay full price. Because many people never see the true cost of their prescriptions, the price is not something they worry about. As a result, drug companies feel freer to raise prices and costs continue to rise. The bottom line? A large percentage of what you pay for drugs is taken as profit.

What Can You Do To Lower Your Drug Costs?

Understanding why drug costs are so high, you may feel that it is impossible to find a way to reduce them. But this simply isn’t true. There are several things you can do to make prescription drugs more affordable.

As mentioned briefly above, it pays (literally) to be informed. If your doctor doesn’t possess the knowledge regarding all the drug choices available for your condition, take initiative and conduct some of your own research. Ask your doctor if there are any older versions of the newest drug you’ve been prescribed and find out if the drug is as effective. If it can do the job just as well as its newer relation, and comes with a cheaper price tag, it won’t take you long to make a decision.

Secondly, find out if there are any generic versions of the drug you need available in your area. Generic drugs are the same drug but without the brand name price tag. This type of drug is similar to the no-name brands you find in your local grocery store. The product is exactly the same but less expensive because you’re not paying for the name (and hence the advertising).

If you are uninsured or underinsured, make sure you exhaust all your insurance options. Calculate the costs associated with purchasing an insurance plan and determine whether or not you can find a plan that will ultimately weigh in your favor. Also, find out if you can benefit from Medicare. Medicare Part D is one option you should research, although for many Americans it has actually made prescription drugs more expensive and seems to have been created to benefit the drug companies rather than the American public. The process can be confusing, but if you take the time to find out if you are one of the lucky few to benefit, it could be worth your while.

Finally, many Americans have chosen to order discount drugs online, from either American or Canadian pharmacies. American online pharmacies offer older and generic versions of drugs at a reduced cost, while Canadian operations can actually offer brand name prescriptions (or whatever prescription you require) for a significantly lower price. This is simply because the Canadian Government regulates the cost of drugs, which means you pay less at the cash register. As long as the pharmacy is licensed to conduct international pharmacy services, ordering online from a Canadian pharmacy is a safe and affordable alternative to the high cost of drugs in the U.S.