Insurers Drop Expensive Medications

It is no secret that drug prices continue to be a problem in the United States. In a previous blog post, we discussed the environment in which skyrocketing drug prices are allowed to take off.  It has continued to be an important subject to Americans and the ongoing presidential campaigns.  The growing issue of medications costs is punctuated with head-spinning facts such as drugs that are $1,000 per pill in the US costing as little as $4 in India, or the life-expectancy is higher in Costa Rica than the United States despite higher income and amount spent on healthcare by Americans.  Some insurance companies are beginning to fight back against pharmaceutical companies pricing by dropping expensive drugs from their covered medications.

 

DSC05705-BThe strategy to drop expensive drugs from their formularies was established two years ago by Express Scripts, the largest pharmacy benefit manager in the US, when they announced they would no longer pay for 48 brand-name medications.  This was a result of many medicines raising over 20% in price over the previous year, so Express Scripts stopped paying for them in 2014 and moved their patients to generics or competing drugs.  The result was many pharmaceutical companies dropping the prices of the products, and some being reaccepted into Express Scripts’ formulary.

 

Ronny Gal, a drug industry analyst, expects more than half of all insured people will have some medications excluded from their coverage. He said, “Drug companies have been pricing their drugs largely along the lines of…whatever you can get away with and still have the patient get the drug.  This year exclusion will become a standard feature of the industry, which is actually quite a shocker for a lot of patients.”

 

The shock to patients can be nearly as damaging as the high cost of their needed medication. Many patients can spend years trying to find a medication that helps with conditions such as ADD/ADHD or chronic pain with minimal side-effects.  This issue is exacerbated by the simple fact that individuals respond to treatments differently; a painkiller may make one person nauseous and help another, or a medication for a mental illness or behavioral disorder may greatly improve the life of one patient whereas another individual with the same condition may struggle even more on identical doses.  Many doctors find it highly inappropriate for anyone to change a patient’s medication if the regimen is working, even with the intent of saving patients money.

 

We at NeedyMeds don’t think patients should have to choose between prescriptions or groceries, or between taking a medicine that works for them or being switched to a more affordable drug that affects them negatively.  Our website has databases of information, including Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs) that provide prescribed medications at low- or no-cost.  The NeedyMeds Drug Discount Card also helps those without insurance (or those who choose not to use their insurance) by saving between 0-80% of their prescription costs, also available as a printable PDF or a smartphone app.  A plastic card can be ordered online or requested by calling our toll-free helpline at 1-800-503-6897.

Tobacco-Free Awareness Week

For Tobacco-Free Awareness Week, NeedyMeds is taking a look at the costs of a smoking habit.  Smoking certainly has a cost on public health, with nearly half a million deaths attributed to tobacco use every year.  Smoking causes cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), as well as increases risk for tuberculosis, eye disease, and problems with your immune system.  Since the Surgeon General started reporting on smoking and its health impacts in 1964, 20 million people have died from smoking-related illnesses, including 2.5 million nonsmokers who were exposed to secondhand smoke.  There are also substantial financial costs. On top of the cost of cigarettes, Americans spend nearly $170 billion in health-care costs and more than $156 billion in lost productivity due to smoking-related illnesses or premature death each year.

 

For someone who smokes a pack a day, one could feasibly spend between $1,600 and $3,600 on cigarettes each year (depending on the state in which one lives/buys cigarettes).  WalletHub, a personal finance resource, found that if smokers were to invest the money they usually spend on cigarettes in the stock market they could see a return ranging from $16,000 to $34,500 (annual return calculated using historical average return rate for the S&P 500 minus inflation rate during same time period).

Around_Btown_Sept_2011_087Health-care for smoking-related issues costs an average of $2,100 to $4,700 per year.   Previous studies have also found that smoking can lead to loss of income either through absenteeism, workplace bias, or lower productivity.  WalletHub estimates that one’s income can be affected by a matter of $3,000 to $6,000 per year.  There are other costs associated with smoking, such as higher health insurance premiums or losing a credit on homeowner’s insurance typically granted to nonsmokers.

 

According to a 2014 National Survey, there is an estimated 66.9 million smokers in the US.  Tobacco-Free Awareness Week is meant to encourage those who smoke to make the healthy choice and quit.  As well as being very damaging to one’s health, the financial cost can reach upwards of $24,000 to $48,000 per year.

 

For those looking to quit, consult your doctor or call the CDC’s toll-free helpline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669).  NeedyMeds has resources for many smoking-related conditions in our Diagnosis-Based Assistance area of our site, including Addiction which may list programs that offer help with quitting as well.  For more information on where your state falls for the financial cost of smoking, check WalletHub’s findings.

 

President Vetoes Bill that would Limit Access to Healthcare

We are barely two weeks into 2016, and there have already been attempts to limit access to healthcare for Americans.  Last week President Obama vetoed a bill that would have repealed the Affordable Care Act (ACA, aka Obamacare) and cut all federal funding to Planned Parenthood.  The veto marks the first time a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act has passed through Congress after more than 50 attempts. In previous blog posts, we explored how the ACA has in fact insured over 10 million people and the many services provided by Planned Parenthood to both men and women.

 

In the latest annual report from Planned Parenthood (2014-2015) the health impact has shown some notable declines in number of people served with cancer and/or STI screenings, likely related to the closings of Planned Parenthood clinics in Texas and other states.  Abortions still only account for 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services. Planned Parenthood 2014 ServicesIn the time covered by the report, only 43% of the Planned Parenthood’s funding comes from government grants and reimbursements. These funds are prohibited from being used for abortions, and instead allow Planned Parenthood affiliates to provide cancer screenings, STI tests and treatment, and educate patients on their sexual and reproductive health.  Cutting federal funding to Planned Parenthood would have a larger impact on cancer rates as opposed to the abortion services targeted by political parties. To illustrate this point: Planned Parenthood provided 865,721 pap tests and breast exams for women at risk of cancer in their 2013-2014 report; the most recent report, after a number of clinics closing and debates being waged on both state and federal levels, shows Planned Parenthood providing 635,342 pap tests and breast exams in 2014-2015. Almost a quarter-million fewer people got cancer screenings, and 15,000 less cancers were detected. This is by no means concrete, but less access to services can lead to cancers becoming more advanced before being diagnosed and treated. By contrast, abortion numbers fell by less than 5,000.

 

The repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the dissolution of Planned Parenthood would have a devastating impact on low-income individuals.  If repealed, the 10 million plus people now covered by insurance could be dropped from their coverage if they got a serious illness and many still struggling will lose any momentum they have achieved. If Planned Parenthood loses federal funding, tens of thousands of low-income patients may miss the opportunity to detect cancer before it is too late, as well as leaving many people in need receiving education on their sexual/reproductive health or prenatal services underserved. Sexually transmitted infections could also be missed and spread to more of the population.  President Obama shot down the repeal bill by saying, “Because of the harm this bill would cause to the health and financial security of millions of Americans, it has earned my veto.”

 

NeedyMeds’ mission is to help those facing the high costs of health care, no matter what comes of the ACA or Planned Parenthood. 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 devices.  NeedyMeds also has information on over 500 Planned Parenthood clinics. Search your zip code for locations in your area.

Cervical Cancer Awareness for the New Year

January is National Cervical Health Awareness Month. With all women being at risk for cervical cancer, it’s important to be mindful of the health risks, symptoms, and resources available to those in need. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, and about 4,000 women die from it annually.

The main cause of cervical cancer is human papillomavirus (HPV), a common virus that can be passed between people during sex. HPV is so common that most people will have it at some point during their lives without ever developing symptoms. About 90% of cases are cleared naturally by the immune system within two years; however, there is no way of knowing which individuals will go on to develop health problems.

Some strains of HPV can cause warts around genitals or in one’s throat, while others can cause normal cells in the body to turn abnormal—possibly leading to cancer over time. Other factors that can increase your risk for cervical cancer are smoking, having HIV, using birth control pills for an extended time (five or more years), or giving birth to three or more children.

The most important thing one can do to prevent cervical cancer is to have regular screening tests starting at age 21. Regular Pap tests performed by a doctor are the main defense against cervical cancer. There are vaccines for HPV that can greatly decrease the chances of contracting the potentially malignant virus available to pre-teens and young adults.  Safe sex practices can also lower the risk of infection for both cervical cancer and HPV.

 

ribbon-for-cancer-teal-mdIn a previous blog post, we featured the National Breast Cancer and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, a national government initiative that provides free or low-cost screenings for those who qualify and gives access to treatment through Medicaid for women diagnosed with cancer through the program.  We had a post last year covering Planned Parenthood’s many important services, including cervical cancer screenings.  Planned Parenthood performed 378,692 Pap tests in 2013 alone. NeedyMeds has information on over 500 Planned Parenthood clinics; search your zip code for locations in your area.

Cervical Health Awareness is a nationally important matter. Women should be encouraged to get their well-woman visit with their doctor this year and be told of the resources available if they need help. Parents should know the HPV vaccine can also greatly decrease their children’s risk of contracting cervical cancer. For more resources, check our website at Needymeds.org or call our toll-free helpline at 1-800-503-6897.

How to Find the Best Prices for Prescriptions

We are almost to 2016, and the high costs of prescriptions are still a huge problem for millions of Americans.  Despite laws like the Affordable Care Act (ACA), drug prices continue to vary and rise in ways that are often too much for patients to navigate.  A recent poll found that a third of those currently taking a medication experienced a spike in price in the past year. Consumer Reports was able to uncover a lot of information with a national price scan of five common generic drugs. With their findings in mind, there are tips one can follow to get lower prices and better deals on needed medication.

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  1. Shop around.  Even pharmacies within a few miles of each other can vary widely in price, sometimes by hundreds of dollars.  Furthermore, chain drugstores consistently charged the most among the medications and locations polled. Independent and local mom-and-pop pharmacies were found to have bargains on prescriptions, and sometimes are flexible to match or beat competitor prices.
  2. It’s okay to not use your health insurance.  Many chain stores offer common generics at prices as low as $4-$15 for a 30- to 90- day supply when people pay out of pocket.  NeedyMeds has a database of locations and medications available through these discount programs. Sometimes pharmacists will insist you must use your health insurance, even it the price is higher than the cash price or the price with the NeedyMeds drug discount card. They are wrong – you never have to use your health insurance if you can get a better price not using it.
  3. Ask for a 90-day prescription.  For drugs you will be taking long term, getting enough medicine to last three months as opposed to one can be cheaper.  We mentioned the discount programs available above, and for those using insurance it would equate to only one copay instead of three.
  4. Ask for a discount.  It may seem awkward or something better used at a car dealership, but Consumer Reports found that pharmacists either have some flexibility when asked or are able to find a coupon or card that can bring down the price, or offer one of the discount programs they may have available for those not using insurance.
  5. Shop online.  Check the web for prices that can help you negotiate if a pharmacist quotes you a higher price.  You can also fill a prescription with an online pharmacy—just be careful to choose one that clearly operates within the United States and displays the VIPPS symbol to show that it is a Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site. Sites that claim to be Canadian are often fake storefronts for low-quality or counterfeit products, and internet pharmacies from other countries that advertise heavily discounted medications are almost never legitimate.
  6. Use NeedyMeds.  Our site has information on Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs) that offer drugs at low or no price offered by pharmaceutical companies, Generic Discount Drug Programs offered by pharmacies, and coupons for prescriptions.  The NeedyMeds Drug Discount Card is also available for free on our site.  We can send one via mail or you can print your own or download the smartphone app.

 

It is important to know that when the price of your medication rises suddenly you don’t have to just submit to the higher cost.  Comparison-shopping can lead to saving hundreds of dollars on your needed medications, and asking for discounts can sometimes garner positive results.  All of NeedyMeds’ information is available for free on our website, as well as through our toll-free helpline (1-800-503-6897).

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