To hear it from the pharmaceutical industry, Medicare Part D, the federal program that helps American seniors and the disabled cover medication costs, is a highly popular, successful, low-cost program. That’s bunk. According to a new paper, written by authors Marc-Andrew Gagon, PhD. and Sidney Wolfe, MD (Carleton University’s School of Public Policy and Administration and Public Citizen, respectively), drug prices covered under Medicare Part D are wildly inflated compared to drug prices in all other countries. Ok. We knew that already. That’s why seniors continue to import medication from other countries! But seriously, this report includes fresh data and critical analysis to reminds us, and hopefully convince Congress, that not only are we paying too much as taxpayers and consumers but Americans often cannot afford to take prescribed medication at all, and that leads to more hospitalizations and higher healthcare costs.
We’ve noted on many occasions the government’s survey data showing that about five million Americans import prescription drugs for personal use due to cost. About 750,000 are seniors, most who are subject to the coverage gap known as the “doughnut hole” of Part D, which, despite improvements under Obamacare, still leads to millions of seniors struggling to afford medication. Their decision to buy more affordable medication internationally makes sense. According to the new report, even the rebated brand name drugs under Part D are almost twice (198%) the cost paid in countries that make up the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) – the most advanced economies.
The report is called “Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall: Medicare Part D pays needlessly high brand-name drug prices compared with other OECD countries and U.S. government programs.” You can find it here. (more…)
Tagged with: gagnon, OECD, Part D, public citizne, seniors, sidney wolfe
A Bittersweet Prescription
OPEN enrollment for Medicare Part D drug plans ended this past Sunday, but my thoughts about them linger. Our website www.MedicareDrugpPlans.com received about 150 ratings of part D plans in 2014 – most of them highly critical, and some of them downright scathing! Whether it’s a plan’s horrible customer service, lack of coverage of many brand name drugs, or dropped coverage, we’re hearing from many irate seniors. At the same time, some studies have shown most seniors are happy with their plans. Why all the contradictions about Part D? To understand, please join me on a trip down Part D memory lane.
When PharmacyChecker.com was founded in 2002, American seniors did not have pharmacy benefit plans through Medicare. While most seniors had some drug coverage through private health insurance or Medicaid, 25% were without any drug coverage and, thus, vulnerable to a pharmacy’s highest retail price. Just eight months after our website launched in April 2003, Congress passed and the president signed the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003 (MMA), which created a pharmacy benefit opportunity for all Medicare enrollees known as Part D.
It’s amazing and sad to report that, today, the problem of high drug prices for Americans overall is worse than the problems existing before the MMA was born. In 2001, the Commonwealth Fund reported that 28 million Americans did not fill a prescription due to cost. That number shot up to 50 million Americans in 2012!
Tagged with: MMA, Part D, seniors
The Internet offers almost everything, from news on sports and politics to forums and games. A new study from the Pew Research Center suggests that the Internet may even be useful in improving health outcomes. Make no mistake, the study doesn’t say that Internet access and use makes you healthier, but it does find that Americans with chronic conditions are more likely than regular Internet users to seek out information about their health. Specifically, that means gathering information online about medical issues, consulting online reviews about drugs and other treatments, and reading or watching something online about some else’s personal health experience.
The problem is that people with chronic conditions are less likely to be using the internet in the first place. Only 72% of adults with chronic conditions use the internet, compared to 89% of adults with no chronic conditions. Part of this gap is due to the fact that older Americans are more likely to have a chronic condition and also less likely to use the Internet. Only 53% (and growing) of seniors are online, compared to 85% of all Americans. It seems that the group who could make the best use of internet resources is those least likely to access them. One company’s newsletter suggests that getting Americans with chronic conditions online will help them get facts about their condition, prepare them to discuss data with their doctor, and also look for others who share their conditions.
Here at PharmacyChecker, we know that greater internet access will also help more consumers save money on their medication. We hope that Pew or other research organizations continue to study the effects of the internet and internet access on health, especially toward the goal of helping Americans find affordable healthcare, which has proven to improve health outcomes.
Tagged with: Internet access, Pew Research Center, seniors
PharmacyCheckerBlog has reported on the potential effects of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) with respect to drug prices and access to medication. Our friends at RxRights.org provide an excellent discussion of this topic as it applies to seniors on Medicare Part D, and more specifically how personal drug importation will remain an important channel to medicine for those slipping through the cracks. Read their post here.
Tagged with: Medicare, Obamacare, seniors
Some pharmaceutical industry folks, and their political allies, like to make the point that our nation’s seniors no longer need access to lower cost foreign medication because they now have new and improved Medicare drug plans. But a new report by IMS indicates that drug costs are having a negative effect on public health, including for our seniors’. Put simply, the data indicates that even with the improvements and savings offered by Part D of Medicare (Medicare’s drug benefit), seniors still struggle to afford the drugs they need.
According to the report, medicine use by 65 year olds decreased 3.1% — the largest decrease in any age group. As reported in the New York Times, Michael Kleinrock, director of research development at the IMS Institute for Health Informatics, a group that consults for the drug industry, said that seniors appear to be “rationing their care as they struggled to pay rising bills on fixed incomes.” Mr. Kleinrock also said, “We’re reaching a tipping point where patients will actually take that increased cost and use less medicine.” Leigh Purvis, who studies drug prices for the AARP explains that the drugs most often cut are those “where you don’t necessarily develop symptoms when you stop taking them.”
Source: IMS Health, LifeLink, Dec 2011; U.S. Census Bureau
Such cutbacks in drug utilization for needed medication are known to lead to increased emergency room visits and greater social costs. Indeed, according to the IMS data, emergency room visits are up by 7.4%. Other studies, such as one by the Commonwealth Fund, have shown that medication nonadherence (skipping your prescribed medication) have been linked to increased emergency room visits, hospital stays, and nursing home admissions. The new IMS report illustrates this correlation as it finds seniors cutting back on needed medication.
Some improvements to Part D of Medicare have already been implemented and the IMS data shows a $1.8 billion decrease in out of pocket spending on prescription medication that is likely due to these improvements. More improvements are on the way as long as the Affordable Care Act is not overturned. However, it’s clear that our seniors continue to suffer negative health consequence because of drug affordability problems.
A recent survey by RxRights.org, a non-profit group advocating for Americans who purchase medication from Canada and other countries, shows that just over half of people who personally import medication through online pharmacies are in Medicare. So even with Part D available to them, they actively seek lower drug prices outside the United States, making it abundantly clear that seniors continue to need the option to personally import prescription medication. It is important that they do so safely, using pharmacies approved by third-party verification programs such as PharmacyChecker.com.
Tagged with: affordable prescriptions, Drug Importation, Drug Prices, IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, Medicare Drug Plans, Medicare Part D, seniors