The Causes for Increased Cost of Medications

Medication prices continue to be a major concern for many Americans.  Recent months have seen a deluge of stories of drugs with $100,000+ price tags.  A 2015 poll found that a third of patients saw a price increase in their medications last year.  The problem is that these price increases have different causes, making it difficult to solve all the issues.

1416631397nn1xeWith advances in science we have seen development of new, highly successful drugs sometimes costing as much as $1000 per pill.  These prices are often seen as justified when researchers look at the benefits of a curative versus the potential long-term cost of living with a condition and less effective treatments.  This is frequently called “value pricing.” The companies that develop these drugs reap profits for the medications patent life (typically 7-12 years) until generic medications are able to enter the market at more affordable prices. The question that remains is whether these exceedingly high prices and several years of wait are worth some patients not being able to afford a medication that could cure them.

The problems of expensive effective brand-name drugs are exacerbated by “pay-for-delay” deals designed to keep a generic medication off the market, extending the brand-name’s monopoly on the formula.  Brand-name drug-makers have been known to functionally pay off several generic manufacturers to drop patent challenges and stop the development of lower-cost alternatives. A 2013 Supreme Court ruling found that existing antitrust laws apply to these deals and has limited the number of pay-for-delay deals being made, but the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) still considers this one of their top priorities.

One of the larger stories of the past year was the dramatic increase of formerly inexpensive generic medications.  The strategy works for pharmaceutical companies that may acquire the rights to a certain formula because there is too little competition for each medicine or molecular compound.  This is in part due to a three-year wait period for manufacturers of generic drugs to be approved by the FDA, creating possible monopolies and reducing competition while patients struggle to get the medication that may have been affordable a year prior.

 

Being an election year, a Kaiser Health Tracking Poll shows health care ranks fourth in the issues voters most want to hear candidates discuss in their campaign, particularly concerning the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and health care costs.  NeedyMeds exists to help those struggling with the high costs of medicine and medical care. Our site has databases of Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs) that offer brand-name or generic drugs for low- or no cost. You can search your medication in the Drug Search on the NeedyMeds website, or call our toll-free helpline (800-503-6897).

Start Summer with Sun and Skin Safety Tips

We are now in June and summer is about to sweep across much of the US.  Over the next few months, it will be important to protect ourselves from the health risks posed by the sun and heat.  Regardless of skin color, exposure to the sun carries many dangers to one’s skin—from freckles and wrinkles often associated with aging, to sunburns, benign tumors or cancerous skin lesions. Prolonged heat exposure can also have many negative impacts on one’s health ranging from a rash, exhaustion, fainting, or even death.

 

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Although everyone should take precautions to protect their skin, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) encourages those with pale skin; blond, red, or light brown hair; or who has a personal or family history of skin cancer to be especially careful while in the sun.  The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can damage one’s skin in as little as 15 minutes, and the best tool in combatting that skin damage is sunscreen.  The American Academy of Dermatology suggests applying SPF 30 (at least) liberally 15 minutes before going outside, and to reapply at least every two hours to remain protected.

To further protect your skin where sunscreen is ineffective, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants when possible, and at least a t-shirt when the heat makes long clothing uncomfortable. Hats and sunglasses also protect vulnerable areas from the sun. Staying in the shade or avoiding the outdoors altogether during the midday hours can also lower one’s risk of skin damage from the sun.

 

In the US, there is an average of 618 heat-related deaths per year.  The CDC has many recommendations including staying in air-conditioned or climate-controlled areas, taking cool showers or baths, drinking more water than usual to stay hydrated, avoiding alcohol or sugary drinks, and to be aware of local weather reports.

 

It is very important to know the symptoms of heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Muscle cramping is often the first sign, and could lead to heavy sweating, weakness, clammy skin, fast weak pulse, nausea, or fainting—the signs of heat exhaustion. Cramps can also lead to heat stroke, a medical emergency; if body temperature rises above 103°F with rapid and strong pulse or unconsciousness, call 911 immediately.  In times of extreme heat, people are encouraged to check on friends and neighbors who are at higher risk to the heat such as people aged 65 and older, infants and children, people with chronic medical conditions, outdoor workers, and people with low income.

 

It is important to know the dangers of sun and heat exposure, and that there are resources available for those in need. NeedyMeds has information on national Diagnosis-Based Assistance programs (DBAs) offering testing for those at risk for skin cancer as well as financial assistance for those already diagnosed.  We hope everyone enjoys the beautiful weather this summer and stays safe and healthy.

National Osteoporosis Month

National Osteoporosis Month is observed every May and promoted by the National Osteoporosis Foundation.  Also known as National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month, people are encouraged to understand the risk factors and preventative measures that affect bone health.  An estimated 10 million Americans are diagnosed with osteoporosis and another 44 million have low bone density, placing them at increased risk.

 

Comparing structure of bones with osteoperosis (right) to healthy bones (left)

Comparing structure of bones with osteoperosis (left) to healthy bones (right)

Osteoporosis causes bones to become weak and brittle so that they may break from mild stresses or falls, and occurs when the creation of new bone tissue doesn’t keep pace with the degradation of the existing bone. Osteoporosis affects both men and women, but is more common in women.

 

 

Approximately 80% of osteoporosis cases are found in women. Low body weight, low estrogen levels, an irregular menstrual cycle, inadequate nutrition, lack of exercise, smoking, and drinking alcohol are all risk factors of osteoporosis.  Teenage girls are encouraged to build strong bones while developing by eating foods high in calcium and vitamin D, fruits and vegetables, and regular exercise.  Women are encouraged to learn about preventing osteoporosis during early- to mid-adult life.  Men and women alike are at increased risk of osteoporosis after age 50.

 

NeedyMeds has partnered with the National Osteoporosis Foundation to bring you the Osteoporosis Diagnosis Information Page.  Our Diagnosis Information Pages are intended to be a one-stop-shop for information, featuring a list of commonly prescribed medications for the condition as well as linking to any Patient Assistance Program (PAP) we may have listed for those prescriptions.  Additionally, NeedyMeds presented a webinar with National Osteoporosis Foundation’s Clinical Director earlier this week with information on medicines in development to treat osteoporosis.  For more help accessing information, call our toll-free helpline at 1-800-503-6897.

Less than 10% of Americans Uninsured

Over 7 million previously uninsured Americans gained health coverage in 2015 as a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA, aka ObamaCare). In a previous blog post, we showed the impact the ACA had since its full expansion in 2014.   Since then, the uninsured rate has dropped to single-digits with 9.1% Americans remaining uncovered by insurance, a decline of 2.4% since last year.

 

The Affordable Care Act has been criticized by Republicans and has led to multiple attempts to repeal the health care law or states refusing to expand Medicaid to help the poorest uninsured Americans.  States that have expanded Medicaid are seeing uninsured rates for adults 18-64 years of age around 9.8% compared to 17.5% for non-expansion states. Data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 16.2 million fewer Americans are uninsured since the end of 2013.

Uninsured rates 2013-15

NeedyMeds’ mission is to help those facing the high costs of health care, no matter what comes of the ACA. For those unable to afford their medications, NeedyMeds has an extensive database of Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs). NeedyMeds also has information on Coupons and Rebates that can help lower the cost of necessary medications. For those without any prescription coverage, the NeedyMeds Drug Discount Card saves 0-80% on any prescribed medication. A plastic card can be ordered online or requested by calling our toll-free helpline at 800-503-6897, or a printable version can be found on our website as well as a smartphone app on Apple and Android device.  NeedyMeds also has information on over 14,000 free, low-cost, sliding scale clinics around the country. Search your zip code for locations in your area.

National Women’s Health Week

This past Mother’s Day launched the 17th annual National Women’s Health Week.  Led by the US Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health, the goal is to empower women to make their health a priority and raise awareness of the steps one can take to improve their health.

 

nwhw-logo-webThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends many common measures, such as proper health screenings, staying physically active, eating healthy, and promoting other healthy behaviors. Healthy behaviors include getting enough sleep, being smoke-free, washing your hands, not texting while driving, or wearing a seatbelt, a bicycle helmet, or sunscreen when appropriate. Furthermore, the National Women’s Health Week website has suggestions for women in their 20s to their 90s.

 

There are also many resources for women in need. In a previous blog post, we detailed the National Breast Cancer and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. Information for the local offerings from the program can be found in the NeedyMeds State Sponsored Programs section.  There are other government programs for women’s health to be found on our site, including WISEWOMAN, a program that provides low-income, uninsured/under-insured women with blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes screenings.

 

NeedyMeds has a database of over 14,000 free, low cost, or sliding scale clinics, over 4000 of which offer women’s health services. Search your zip code for clinics in your area, and find Women’s Health in Services under the Details heading to find free or low-cost medical attention.  Assistance for women’s health can also be found in our Diagnosis-Based Assistance database by searching for conditions that affect the women in our lives. HealthWeb Navigator, a new project by NeedyMeds, has reviews for websites featuring healthcare information including the subject of Women’s Health. For more resources, check our website at Needymeds.org or call our toll-free helpline at 1-800-503-6897.

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