Yesterday, AARP published its latest Rx Price Watch report, which highlights generic prescription medication price changes from 2006-2013. Generic medication is considered the best avenue towards lower taxpayer and consumer drug costs. In the mid-1980s, passage of the Hatch-Waxman Act helped bring lower cost generic medication to the market faster and fueled intense price competition among generic manufacturers. The result was 1) much lower drug prices on medications that have lost their patents (often 90% lower) and 2) an exceedingly high generic penetration rate with generics comprising 85% of all medication use. AARP’s report suggests that generic drug prices continue to decrease, which is good, but at a much slower rate, “indicating that the era of consistent generic drug price decreases may be coming to an end.”
Stay calm. Generics are still usually much lower cost than the brand names and that will continue to be the case. AARP’s report notes that 2013 had the lowest average generic price decrease (4.1%) since 2006. However, AARP’s data also shows considerable fluctuation in this rate, enough to question whether or not we’re really experiencing a new normal in which generic drug prices no longer decline year after year. For example, the decreases in average generic drug prices that occurred in the prior two years, 2011 and 2012, 9.1% and 14.5%, respectively, were the highest since 2006. These numbers, however, most likely reflect what’s referred to as the “patent cliff” – a time when many patents on blockbuster brand name drugs, such as Lipitor and Plavix, lost their patents, thus allowing much lower cost generics to enter the market. As I see it, we don’t really know the future trend of generic drug prices.
Again, most generic drugs are way cheaper than their brand name counterparts and just as safe and effective. The big generic drug problem is that the cost of some generics has spiked outrageously over the past few years, sometimes beyond the reach of the American consumer. Usually when we talk about insane price increases of brand name drugs year over year the percentages are 10, 20, 30 or even 40%. But the increases for some generics have literally been in the 2000% range! One crazy example, reported by the People’s Pharmacy, showed that the cost of the antibiotic doxycycline skyrocketed from six cents ($.06) to $3.30, a 5500% increase.
In fact, directing you back to our research from November 2014, we found that even brand name versions sold in foreign pharmacies can be MUCH lower cost than the generics sold here! Please keep in mind that those same generics mentioned in our analysis may have already come down in price domestically. So before you buy from an international online pharmacy, check your local pharmacy first.
Today, the AARP reported that brand name drug prices increased by 41% between 2006-2009, approximately three times the rate of inflation. In the New York Times article announcing the study, AARP refers to the price increases as “relentless”. The media often reports on studies about drug price increases because it’s an issue of great frustration for millions of Americans; and this blog has presented the facts on how tens of millions of Americans skip medication due to cost. But what are the public health ramifications of high drug costs? (more…)
Last week, Roger Bate, an economist and expert in counterfeit drugs with the American Enterprise Institute, wrote an article called “Google’s Ad Freedom Wrongly Curtailed.” Bate’s piece shows how banning safe foreign online pharmacies from advertising on Google and elsewhere is not only unethical but will lead to sub-optimal health outcomes. As we wrote at the end of August, the non-prosecution agreement between the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Google, in which the search engine was fined $500 million for allowing rouge Canadian sites to advertise controlled substances, is good because it forces Google to now block dangerous rogue online pharmacies from advertising. At the same time, however, it’s bad because it appears to prevent Google from allowing safe and affordable Canadian-based online pharmacies form advertising as well.
The DOJ/Google settlement appears to reflect the false rhetoric espoused by the U.S. government and pharmaceutical industry that only U.S. online pharmacies can be safe. Bate knows this is not true based on his own empirical studies, which found that properly credentialed non-U.S. online pharmacies sell genuine medication at a lower cost and require a prescription. By blocking safe Canadian pharmacies from advertising to Americans on Google, it is more difficult for needy Americans to find them. Bate writes:
Google’s current policy removes the potentially lethal sellers, but by disallowing credentialed foreign sites from advertising it will harm public health. The tens of millions of uninsured Americans who cannot afford their drugs will go online to circumvent this obstruction. If they are unaware of pharmacychecker.com’s credentialing, they will play Russian roulette and may end up buying a lethal product.
With media outlets and politicians inundated with a voracious pharmaceutical industry public relations assault that seeks to paint all non-U.S. online pharmacies as rogue, the victim here is the American seeking affordable medication online because he or she can’t afford it here at home. Bate wrote: “What is surprising is that independent groups, like Consumer Reports and AARP, have bought into this industry rhetoric or have failed to properly explain to their members that foreign doesn’t necessarily mean dangerous.” (more…)
PharmacyChecker.com was mentioned this week in a U.S. News and World Report article entitled How to Cut Your Drug Costs. Listed among other effective ways to save money on prescription drugs, the article notes that PharmacyChecker “compares prices of mail-order pharmacies, and can help you find the lowest posted prices.”
How to Cut Your Drug Costs reminds readers that buying drugs from Canada – and elsewhere overseas – is technically illegal, but it quotes AARP: “Over the past decade millions of Americans have ignored U.S. law to seek cheaper prices from Canada, most often by mail order.” Notably, AARP found Canadian prices for Lipitor to be about a third less than they are here in the U.S. The fact that the FDA has (to our knowledge) never prosecuted an individual for importing a three-month supply of personal, non-controlled drugs with a valid prescription, means that they too understand the importance of access to safe and affordable medication. (more…)
Last month the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced a no contest grant to be awarded to the National Consumers League (NCL) to examine the problem of prescription adherence. The problem is one we discuss almost every week on this blog: Americans are not taking their prescribed medication. Therefore, when we came across an FDA initiative aimed at tackling the problem we were intrigued.
In the FDA announcement we expected to find mention of some of the known causes for Americans not taking their prescribed medications, such as cost, which has previously been proven as the number one reason Americans skip prescriptions. Amazingly, there was not one mention of drug prices or cost in the announcement. In choosing NCL as the recipient of the $40,000 grant it appeared that FDA might be on the right track After all, NCL knows from its own commissioned study that drug prices are the main reason Americans don’t take their medications. NCL has brought together “stakeholders” from government, non-profit organizations and the private sector. This sounds like a good idea. (more…)