The news hit mailboxes at the end of September, just in time for Medicare enrollment: Medicare Part D premiums will increase in 2016. In fact, the ten plans that currently cover 80 percent of Part D participants will increase an average of eight percent.
This should come as no surprise. The law prevents Medicare from negotiating the price of drugs for its recipients. Medicare happily pays asking price. And asking price has been on the rise in a dramatic way.
According to an analysis by the Wall Street Journal, revenue growth for the 30 top selling drugs sold by U.S. pharmacies averaged 61 percent. That’s three times the increase in prescriptions for the same drugs during the same five years.
Part of the increase in prescription prices is a result of pharmaceutical companies purchasing drugs and raising their prices. Let’s go ahead and call this practice predatory, because that’s exactly what it is. One of the predators? Valeant Pharmaceuticals. This year they bought Nitropress and Isuprel, both cardiac drugs, and bumped their prices 525 percent and 212 percent respectively, the very same day.
The American Pharmacists Association explains that after Valeant’s purchase of Bausch and Lomb in 2013, the cost of Ativan jumped to $2,500 for a bottle of 100 pills. Ofloxacin ear drops jumped from $10 to $20 dollars to between $100 and $200 per bottle.
That’s some expensive swimmer’s ear.
Turing is the infamous company led by “Pharm Bro” Martin Shkreli that bought the rights to Daraprim in August. The company immediately raised the price a whopping 5,000 percent. Daraprim is used to treat toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection that doesn’t generally affect healthy people. In fact about 60 million of us here in the U.S. have it. Our immune systems keep it in check. But if a person has a compromised immune system – say someone with AIDS or cancer – toxoplasmosis can cause brain damage and blindness. Getting treatment isn’t really a choice for such patients, any more than eating is.
Shkreli said he was going to lower the prices after all the public backlash. But right now I can buy 70 tablets of Daraprim at my local pharmacy – with a coupon – for $45,517.
The public is justifiably outraged at this move. But I wonder if Pharma Bro has done us a favor.
It’s political prime time right now and no politician with even a mediocre spin doctor on his team is going to miss this opportunity. Could it be that the public outrage will be enough to right this ship? I don’t know. It was disappointing that this wasn’t discussed on the Democratic debate. But Bernie Sanders has a bill in front of congress to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices. Hillary Clinton has been talking up her multi-part plan to control drug costs. Republican voters see drug prices as a more pressing issue than Obamacare.
So maybe, just maybe, Pharma Bro got this party started for us. That’s good news, but not in time for those of you enrolling in Medicare today.
During last year’s enrollment I offered step-by-step instructions on how to choose the best Part D plan. Even if you went through this exercise last year, please do it again this year. Drug prices are clearly a moving target. There may be a plan that meets your needs more closely this time around.
Another great tool to research the cost of prescription drugs is a free app called GoodRx . This allows you to compare drug costs among the pharmacies in your local area. It often offers coupons (like the smokin’ deal on Daraprim I mentioned earlier).
Prescription drug costs have the potential to affect all of us significantly – regardless of political views or health status. So do your research, plan wisely for your future needs, and consider carefully the cast of political candidates. Our collective health and financial well-being depend on it.
Amy Rogers MD is not a practicing physician and nothing written here should be taken as medical advice from either Amy or AssetBuilder. Medical decisions should be made with care in consultation with your health care provider.