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Medicines cost me $10,000 annually — I suffer enough without the burden of high drug prices

Medicines cost me $10,000 annually — I suffer enough without the burden of high drug prices
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Every eight weeks when I take out my IV pole from the back of my closet, I am overcome with anxiety. Not because of the ice-cold biological medicine that will run through my veins over the next two hours. Not because of the potentially fatal allergic reaction that could occur. But because of how much this treatment on which I depend is going to cost me.

I receive seven Remicade infusions a year to help manage the symptoms of my Crohn’s disease. Even with insurance, I’m asked to pay more than $1,500 for a single infusion. That’s on top of the cost of doctor’s visits, blood work, imaging tests and other prescription drugs I need to take. 

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Sadly, I know I am not alone. 

 

Patients with commercial health insurance paid 25 percent more in out-of-pocket expenses for branded prescriptions in 2015 than they did in 2010, according to IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics.

Drug companies have the power to raise drug prices in the U.S. as often and as much as they wish. They say they have to recover their research and development costs and earn a profit for investors, but the markup on prescription drugs gets out of hand. 

Too often people can’t afford their life-sustaining medications and are left fighting with insurance companies to pay bills that are astronomically expensive. Too many Americans are forced to choose between feeding their families and paying for their prescriptions. 

About 19 million Americans have chosen to risk legal penalties and their health to get drugs from other countries, such as Canada. The cost of prescription medications in Canada is about a third of what it is in the U.S., according to IHS Markit. 

A 2016 Kaiser Family Foundation poll found 8 percent of American adults admitted to importing medication from Canada or other countries to save money, despite federal restrictions. About 72 percent said they favor allowing Americans to buy prescription drugs imported from Canada.

Americans spent $1,112 per person on prescription drugs in 2014 while Canadians spent an average of $772 per person, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Prices in other high-income countries are on average 56 percent lower than in the U.S. and range from 43 percent less in Japan to 67 percent less in France compared to in the U.S.

Some drugs, such as those used to treat cardiovascular, musculoskeletal and nervous system conditions, cost on average of about 80 percent less outside the U.S. 

Take the antipsychotic Abilify, for example. One 5mg pill costs $34.51 in the U.S. compared to $4.65 in Canada, according to PharmacyChecker.com.

Proposed legislation takes an important step toward making it easier for Americans to access affordable drugs. 

The Affordable Safe Prescription Importation Act introduced in February 2017 would allow wholesalers, pharmacies and individuals to import prescription drugs from licensed Canadian sellers and eventually sellers in other countries.

Legislators say the measure could not only save lives by providing access to affordable prescriptions, but also it could save the federal government more than $6 billion over the next 10 years

The legislation is a start, but more reform is needed, starting with the free-pricing system in the U.S. 

The government should prevent baseless price increases on decades-old prescription drugs that are without competition. It should also punish companies that engage in anticompetitive practices, such as pay-for-delay agreements. And it should regulate direct-to-consumer advertising. 

Congress should revise existing legislation to allow Medicare, the biggest U.S. buyer of medicine, to negotiate prices directly with drug companies. It should also force drug companies and insurance companies to be more transparent about their dealings and to report prescription pricing data to Congress and the public. 

Patients suffer enough without the burden of high drug prices. In my case, anxiety triggers my symptoms. So, the cost of the medicine I’m receiving quite literally makes me sick. 

Emily Miller is editor of Drugwatch.com, a consumer education and advocacy website based in Orlando.