Prescriptions Cost More in the US

We have written many times over the past year of the growing concern of rising prescription costs, from last year’s Daraprim price increase to the more recent life-saving EpiPen price hike. We have tried to explain why these things happen in the US health care industry, but there are a lot of contributing factors. A majority of Americans still consider prescription costs unreasonable and an important political issue.

Euro coinsOne thing often pointed out is that medications are often much more expensive in the U.S. as compared to other countries. Pharmaceutical companies have denied this, saying that prices in the U.S. may appear higher because there is no reporting on discounts drug manufacturers give to insurance companies or pharmacies. While many discounts can be 50% or more, the same medications are often still less expensive in European and other countries than the out-of-pocket costs for Americans. Analyzing a number of prescription medications, Bloomberg found that some drugs cost up to 85% more in the U.S. even after discounts. The list prices for these drugs are often up to 500% higher than in other countries.

Pharmaceutical companies set their own prices in the U.S. and are often raised over time (frequently by companies that bought the rights to the formula—not the companies that developed the drug). Private insurers and benefit managers negotiate their own rebates with the drug companies while Medicare, the federal health insurance program under the Social Security Act, is prohibited from negotiating prices directly with drug companies even as one of the biggest buyers of medicine in the U.S. The European market for prescription medications is set by government health systems and prices decline over time.

USDAccording to those within the industry, prescriptions only account for 12-14% of U.S. health spending and it is unfair to single out medications as a cost driver. The existence of cheaper generic medicines and faster access to new drugs are part of the United States’ free-market system, said a PhRMA spokesperson. However, even after large discounts (that everyone may not be eligible for), prescriptions ranging from cholesterol pills to insulin can be twice the price of the same drug in European countries. The deals pharmaceutical companies reach with insurance companies or other countries are rarely ever made public.

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, notably that provides EpiPen two-packs for low or no cost. For more information, please call our toll-free helpline at 1-800-503-6897. You can search your medication in the Drug Search on the NeedyMeds website, or call our toll-free helpline (800-503-6897).

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

For more than 30 years, October has been National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the US. Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women, second only to skin cancer. With more than 200,000 women diagnosed each year, awareness can save lives through early detection and lowering risk.

National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc.

National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc.

 The main risk factors of breast cancer include being a woman and being older, which means almost any woman can be diagnosed with no family history or other known risk factors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends healthy living habits such as maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise, getting plenty regular nighttime sleep, and avoiding carcinogens as well as to breastfeed any children one may have to reduce one’s risk to breast cancer.

 The US Preventive Service Task Force recommends that women between the ages of 50 to 74 should have a breast cancer screening called a mammogram every two years. Women in their 40s should begin consulting with a doctor about when to start and how often to get screened, often influenced by any family history of breast cancer. Men can also get breast cancer, though it is rare; less than 1% of breast cancer diagnoses are found in men.

Breast cancer can present with a wide variety of symptoms or none at all. Symptoms can include a change in size or shape of one’s breast, pain in the area, nipple discharge other than breast milk, or a lump in the breast or underarm. These symptoms can be serious and a doctor should be consulted immediately. Mammograms cannot prevent breast cancer, but it is much easier to treat when detected early.

NeedyMeds has over 200 national, state, and local programs that help individuals diagnosed with or at risk for breast cancer. These Diagnosis-Based Assistance programs provide financial assistance, mammogram screenings, medical equipment, prostheses, and more. We also have records on more than 4500 free, low-cost, or sliding scale medical clinics that offer women’s health services. Search your zip code and check for “Women’s Health” listed by Services to find locations near you. For assistance finding help near you, check the NeedyMeds website or call our toll-free helpline at 1-800-503-6897.

Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week

This week, President Obama issued a proclamation marking this September 18-24 as Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week. Opioid abuse is a major health concern in the US; drug overdoses kill more Americans than traffic accidents, and more than 60% of these deaths involve opioids.

As part of Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week federal agencies are expanding coverage for substance abuse treatment, establishing measures with the Chinese government to combat the supply of drugs coming into the US, increasing patient limit for practitioners prescribing medication-assisted treatment, and support educational and telemedicine programs that expand access to healthcare and treatment.


A large part of spreading awareness of opioid abuse is to relieve the stigma surrounding those suffering from addiction. The feelings of disgrace and negative self-worth from society’s attitude and misconceptions about addicts can dissuade those in need from seeking treatment.  Last year the local Gloucester, MA police department started a program to help addicts that has since been adopted by over a hundred other departments in 28 states. In July 2015, Gloucester PD launched the Angel Initiative that promises to not charge addicts who voluntarily surrender drugs or paraphernelia but instead gets them started on a fast-tracked process towards detox and recovery. Since its inception, the Angel Initiative has helped over 450 people get treatment for addiction with no arrests while maintaining dignity of those who need help. It also led to the creation of the Police Assisted Addiction Recovery Initiative (PAARI) to help promote recovery and alternatives to police departments and communities looking for more options to combat opioid addiction.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 78 Americans die each day from opioid overdose—more than half of which are from prescription medications. Opioids are often prescribed for acute severe pain, with patients typically using them for four to six weeks before tapering off and moving on to other options. Problems often arise when opioids are treating chronic pain which does not go away, and can lead to side effects such as sedation or confusion. Addiction can occur even over a short period of time, and overdoses can happen easily when taking more than prescribed or when mixing with other medications.


NeedyMeds has information on camps and retreats for those recovering from addiction as well as for children who have been affected by a family member’s addiction, in addition to a few programs to help with mental health counselling, sober living housing, and legal services local to the states of Massachusetts and New York.  For more information, call our toll-free helpline at 1-800-503-6897.

When Free Medicines Aren’t Free

You may have seen the ads claiming a company can help you get all your medications for free. These sites may claim there are “secret” programs run by pharmaceutical companies that provide medicines for free – and only these sites know how to access them. Other sites may claim “for a low monthly fee” they can get you your medicines at no cost.


Let’s take a look at these claims and learn the truth.


First, there are no “secret” programs. Most pharmaceutical companies have patient assistance programs (PAPs). You can find out about them on the companies’ websites, drug-specific websites, or at NeedyMeds. Some even mention them in their television ads. These are the “secret” programs the website ads refer to. Nothing secret about them!

Second, despite claims made on websites, PAPs don’t help with every drug. Each pharma company decide which drugs to offer on their PAP. Some include all their drugs, others programs only include certain drugs. What’s rare is to find is a program that provides free generic medicines.

Third, not everyone is eligible. Each program has its own eligibility guidelines based on income and insurance coverage. Some will help people on Medicare, others won’t. There is a wide variety in eligibility requirements. If you make too much money or your insurance covers the drug, then chances are you won’t be able to participate in the program.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, you don’t need any help applying to these programs. You can do it all yourself for free. The information you need and the application to apply is available on the manufacturer’s website and on NeedyMeds. Most applications are straightforward and easy to complete. All will require some input from the health professional who wrote the prescription.


If you are on a number of drugs you may find that each is on a different PAP. That means you may be filling out a number of applications. This can become quite time consuming. In this scenario you might find it easier to use one of these companies. But there is an alternative.


NeedyMeds list over 1,000 programs that help people find and apply to PAPs. All provide assistance for free or at a very low charge. You can see if there’s such a program near you by going to the Application Assistance section of the NeedyMeds website.


Here are some tips if all else fails and you decide to pay for help from a commercial application assistance program:

  • Check the reputation of the company – The easiest way to do this is to Google the company name with “complaints” and see what comes up. If you find lots of complaints then try a different company. You’ll find some companies have lots of complaints filed against them and others have a clean slate.

  • Be prepared to give a stranger a lot of personal information – The company helping you complete the applications will need a lot of your information such as date of birth, Social Security number, insurance and financial information, the medicines you take, your diagnoses, credit card or checking account numbers and more. Do you want to share this info with a stranger over the Internet?

  • Are they a legitimate business – Make sure their website includes a mailing address, preferably a physical address rather than a Post Office box, an email address and a phone number. Check out their Better Business Bureau listing.

  • How good is their customer service – Call their toll-free helpline number and ask some questions. (Steer clear of any that don’t have a toll-free help line.) Are they courteous and helpful on the phone or do they give you the bum’s rush? Send them some emails and see how quickly they get back to you and if the information they provide is useful.

  • Be careful how you pay – It’s best to use a credit card. If there are problems, your credit card company can help resolve them. Never give access to your checking account.


There are some legitimate commercial application assistance programs that provide good service at a reasonable price. But there are also those that are less than reputable, providing poor service while charging a lot.

The most important thing to remember is you never need a for-profit company to access PAPs. You can do it all yourself with the information you’ll find on the NeedyMeds website.


Rich Sagall, MD, is the president and co-founder of NeedyMeds. He practiced family and occupational medicine for 25 years and now devotes all his time NeedyMeds. He has written and spoken on the obstacle people encounter in paying for their healthcare and medications.

Back-to-School Health Tips

It’s time for children to go back to school where they will be exposed to lots of new experiences and ideas but also higher risk of exposure to viruses and other illnesses.  Here are tips to ensure your children has a successful and healthy time in school.


  1. Vaccinations are the best course for preventing illness.  In addition to the vaccines recommended by your doctor, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends an annual flu vaccine for everyone over 6 months of age.
  2. Sleep is essential to keep children (and adults) focused throughout the day.  Adults need about eight hours of sleep, while young children often need more.  It’s important to set a bedtime that ensures they get enough sleep, and to keep a consistent schedule.
  3. It is never too early to teach good hygiene habits.  To help children avoid getting sick and prevent them from bringing germs home, it’s important to show them how to wash their hands after using the restroom or before eating.
  4. A healthy diet can help children grow and learn more effectively, as well as keep their immune systems primed to fight off illness.  Avoid junk food and soft drinks, and consider packing childrens’ lunches with healthy snacks.
  5. file0001321608732Going back to school is stressful for both parents and kids; for some children, it may be a new sensation.  Help manage stress by talking to children about anything bothering them and take care not to overload anyone’s schedule. Schoolwork is important, but it is essential to relax, play, and spend time with family.
  6. Student backpacks should never weigh more than 10-20% of a child’s body weight, and should be adjusted properly to the bottom of the pack sits at the child’s waist.  Encourage children to use both shoulder straps; slinging a backpack over one shoulder can strain muscles and hurt one’s back.


Children of different ages may have different experiences in school, but these tips are a good foundation to staying healthy while learning and growing.  As written about previously, if you’re child has allergies and you are having difficulties affording EpiPens there are Patient Assistance Programs (PAP) providing two-packs for low or no cost, as well as coupons.  If you are having trouble accessing vaccination or other services, NeedyMeds has a database of over 15,000 free, low-cost, and sliding-scale medical clinics all over the country. The NeedyMeds Drug Discount Card can be of help for prescribed medicines, even over-the-counter medications. The free discount card is also available as an iPhone and Android app. For more information, call our toll-free helpline at 1-800-503-6897.

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