Out-of-Pocket Costs on the Rise

NeedyMeds’ mission has always been to help patients find help covering the costs of health care expenses. A previous guest post from Consumer Reports outlined the problem patients may face when confronted with expensive prescriptions, sometimes having to choose between needed medicine and groceries for their family.  Two recent studies show that the problem may be growing as out-of-pocket costs for health care are continuing to rise.

 

1417202952g3g1pAccording to a study from TransUnion Healthcare, the consumer’s share of healthcare costs rose by 13% from 2014 to 2015. The report also shows that while costs rose, patients had fewer resources to pay for the increase expenses, as the amount of revolving credit had declined.  Out-of-pocket costs include deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance.

 

The University of Michigan conducted a second study that calculated the average out-of-pocket expenses for an inpatient hospital stay for a patient with private insurance was more than $1000, increasing 37% from 2009 to 2013.  Forbes reported on the study, noting deductibles rose 86% in the observed time and coinsurance rose by 33% over the same period.

 

Much like patients who have to choose between potentially life-saving medication and food on the table, rising out-of-pocket costs can lead to putting off a doctor’s visit until they are sicker and at higher risk for serious health complications.  No one should have to sacrifice their health due to a lack in finances. 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 national Diagnosis-Based Assistance programs (DBAs) that provide various forms of assistance including help with deductibles, copays, and coinsurance to individuals with certain diagnoses.

Know What to Look for When Buying Medication Online

In previous blog posts, we have explored the risks of online pharmacies and the increased risks faced by the elderly. This is largely related to Medicare/Medicaid and the growing number of people who are covered by it. Ten thousand Americans turn 65 every day, and not every treatment is covered by Medicare. This can lead senior Americans to look elsewhere for affordable medications, including potentially fraudulent online pharmacies.

This year, the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP) is launching a campaign to raise awareness. A recent review of over 11,000 websites selling prescription medications online to US consumers found nearly 96% noncompliant with US laws and as much as 50% of the medicines sold online are fake. Counterfeit medicines contain little to no active ingredients and could contain dangerous poisons including floor wax, mercury, concrete, chalk, boric acid, road tar, paint or anti-freeze. Interpol estimates that counterfeit drugs are responsible for up to a million annual deaths worldwide.

 

Pharmacy

Lower prices and the convenience of online shopping are major factors driving consumers to the internet for their medications, making older Americans targets for fraudulent drug sellers offering “too good to be true” discounts.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), these counterfeit networks make billions of dollars each year but taking advantage of unknowing buyers online.  More than one’s health, one could put their financial and personal information at risk when submitting them to potentially criminal organizations.

 

There are several things to watch out for when looking for an online pharmacy:

  1. Do not use sites that don’t require a valid prescription.
  2. Avoid sites that sell prescription medications by completing an online questionnaire.
  3. Be wary of sites that offer drastically discounted prices; “too good to be true” often is.
  4. Don’t use sites that do not have a licensed pharmacist available for consultation.
  5. Be cautious of businesses that do not display a physical street address.
  6. Avoid websites that offer to ship prescriptions from other countries to the United States.
  7. Do not use online pharmacies that are not verified by the National Association of State Boards of Pharmacy (NABP).
  8. Look for websites using the new suffix .pharmacy (instead of .com or .org) or sites displaying the VIPPS (Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites) Seal. These help consumers know which sites are legitimate at a glance.

For more information about illegal online pharmacies and counterfeit medicines, consumers should visit www.XtheRisk.com.  For help paying for prescriptions, seniors or caregivers can contact us at NeedyMeds at 1-800-503-6897 or find the information for free on our website.

 

About the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP Global)Screen Shot 2013-10-02 at 11.24.25 AM

Founded in 2009, the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies is an international 501(c)(4) social welfare organization dedicated to protecting patient safety globally and ensuring access to safe and legitimate online pharmacies in accordance with applicable laws.

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.

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