3 Ways to Not Get Ripped Off on Prescriptions

By Lee Bellinger / December 26, 2013

Drug Companies to Patients:
Your Money or Your Life

You can't put a price on this Prescription drugs save lives. (They also cost lives, but that’s a story for another day). Millions of people with cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, heart disease and more depend on prescriptions to extend their lives in the face of disease. But that gets real expensive, real fast.

Is a hundred grand a year worth it? Some of the cancer drugs in question turn diseases that once guaranteed an early death into a manageable condition – one that you can live with for years, enjoying a high quality of life. You can’t put a price on that.

The problem is that for some people, even though they’d pay this price in a heartbeat, they just don’t have the money. Even if they’re insured, they may face unmanageable co-pay costs. And the drug costs alone may quickly max out their lifetime coverage limit, leaving them facing a life-or-death financial disaster.

Doctors Balk
At Unnecessarily High Drug Costs

More than 100 cancer specialists – some of them with close ties to the pharmaceutical industry – are banding together to say, “Enough is enough.” They are urging pharmaceutical companies to look at high-cost, life-saving drugs, to review their pricing structures and profit margins, and to make these medicines more accessible
.

As capitalists, we understand the need for drug companies to make a profit. Without the profit motive, innovation goes out the window. But thanks to government meddling teamed up with high-dollar lobbying efforts by drug manufacturers, the industry is hardly a free market anymore.

With an insane regulatory burden, the drug cartel known as the FDA, and a huge lobbying budget, pharmaceutical companies are insulated from the normal corrective pressures of a free market.

In the argument over drug pricing, pharmaceutical companies make some good points. They spend a lot of money researching and developing new drugs, and not every drug they attempt to develop pans out. Some fail to perform. Others are blocked for legitimate safety reasons. When that happens, the drug company is out the money they invested. They recoup costs through the drugs that do get approved. But some drug companies hide behind that argument.

Just look at cases like the colon cancer drug Zaltrap. When this drug came to market, it was twice as expensive as the other leading drug of its type, but didn’t significantly improve outcomes. Doctors from a single cancer center boycotted it, and the company promptly slashed its price in half!

If a drug company is willing to chop prices that dramatically in the face of pressure from just a handful of doctors, you have to wonder about the pricing of their other products.

3 Ways to Not Get Ripped Off
on Prescription Drugs

The healthcare industry is buffered from normal free-market competition by ridiculous government policies ranging from incoherent regulations to nonsensical subsidies. When you don’t have healthy competition, you end up with high prices and limited options.The maze of bureaucracy adds to the confusion.

It’s almost impossible for the average patient to figure out what a drug really costs, if the price is fair, what alternatives are available, and what choice makes the best sense both financially and in terms of their health. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have options when it comes to making your own decisions about over-priced prescription drugs.

Use these three steps to make sure you’re getting access to the prescriptions that are right for you at the best price possible.

  • Ask lots of questions. Your doctor is only human and he’s under a lot of pressure from pharmaceutical companies, insurance providers, and government regulators to steer you toward certain options and away from others. Ask him to list all the available options and to discuss the pros and cons of each. Ask about generic alternatives and how they measure up to brand name prescriptions. If the doctor says anything you don’t like or don’t understand, ask “What did you mean when you said…”, then repeat his statement back to him. This should get you beyond the pat answer and reveal what he really thinks. If you still don’t think your doctor is being straight with you, get a second opinion.
  • Call around to different pharmacies. Prescription drug prices vary widely between pharmacies, so shop around. You may find that what is completely unaffordable through one pharmacy falls within your budget at another. However you may also find that you get what you pay for; a local independent pharmacist may be more willing to go to bat for you that the pharmacist in a big-box store who is paid to fill as many prescriptions as possible, as fast as possible. A pharmacist is also a good person to talk to about prescription alternatives and insurance regulations; in fact, they probably know more about these topics than your doctor does. If your pharmacist has recommendations that your doctor hasn’t talked to you about, call your doctor to discuss the new information (or even ask the pharmacist to make that call for you).
  • Go straight to the source. Pharmaceutical companies are a business. And that means they care about their reputation. As such, most pharmaceutical companies have programs in place to assist people who cannot afford the drugs they need. If the prescription you need to manage a life-threatening condition is simply impossible for you to afford, contact the pharmaceutical company directly and learn what you need to do to quality for their assistance program.

Life-saving drugs come with a high price tag… to the point of being ethically questionable in some cases. But you don’t have to roll over for the over-burdened, over-regulated, over-priced healthcare system. Use these steps to make sure you get the care you need at a cost you can afford.