Modern medications can work wonders—improving quality of life, curing illness and even saving lives. However, those miracles can come at a high cost, as anyone who’s had to pay for branded prescription medication knows. In fact, spending on prescription drugs has increased 73 percent in the past seven years, according to a new report from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA).
The Health of America Report found prescription drug spending by Blue Cross and Blue Shield members increased 10 percent annually since 2010. High costs of patent-protected drugs account for the lion’s share of the total increase.
Generic drugs account for 82 percent of total prescriptions filled, but account for just 37 percent of total drug spending. By contrast, patent-protected prescription drugs comprise less than 10 percent of all prescriptions filled but account for 63 percent of total drug spending, the report found.
“Experience and past price trends suggest drug costs will continue to rise in the future,” says Maureen Sullivan, chief strategy and innovation officer for BCBS. “The need for more affordable generic alternatives to costly patent-protected brand-name pharmaceuticals is urgent. As prices continue to rise, more consumers will be looking for ways to curb the cost of their medications.”
It is possible to lower your drug costs while still taking the medications your doctor has prescribed to help your health. BCBSA offers some guidance:
• If your doctor prescribes a costly name-brand medication, ask your physician or pharmacist if a generic version is available. Generic drugs are identical to their brand-name equivalents in dosage form, safety, strength and quality, how you take them, performance and intended use, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Generics typically cost less than name-brand medications. The BCBSA report shows how costs for medicines such as Lipitor (atorvastatin) and Avapro (irbesartan) plummet when generic alternatives become available.
• It may be possible for your doctor to prescribe a higher strength than you need of a particular medication and allow you to split the tablet or pill to get the lower dose you need at a lower cost. In fact, many pills that can be safely split come pre-scored with an indentation that makes it easier to cut them in half. However, not all prescription medications can be safely split, so be sure to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about whether it’s safe to split your medications.
• Ordering prescription medications through the mail could lower drug costs, but it’s important to ensure you’re buying from your pharmacy benefit manager, typically listed on the back of an insurance card. The FDA recommends you only purchase drugs from organizations located in the U.S. and licensed by the state board of pharmacy where the company operates (find a list of state boards of pharmacy at www.nabp.info). The mail order pharmacy should have a licensed pharmacist available to answer your questions, require a prescription from your doctor in order to sell you medication and have someone you can talk to directly if you have questions or problems.
• Another way to reduce drug costs is to ask your doctor to write your prescription for a 90-day supply, so that you will get a three-month supply of the medication for the price of one co-pay.
• Finally, review your prescriptions with your doctor at least every six months to ensure you’re not taking any more medicines than you absolutely need. However, never skip doses of medicine, avoid refilling a prescription or stop taking medicine altogether without first consulting your doctor.
For more information about prescription drug costs and to read the full Health of America report, visit www.bcbs.com/healthofamerica.
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