Nearly One-Third of US Consumers Report Steep Rise in Medication Prices

Nearly one-third of American consumers report experiencing a steep increase over the last year in prices paid for drugs they routinely take, which is having a spillover effect on all phases of their lives.

Nearly one-third of American consumers report experiencing a steep increase over the last year in prices paid for drugs they routinely take, which is having a spillover effect on all phases of their lives, from retirement planning to how much they can spend on groceries, according to a report from Consumer Reports.

The report is based on a survey of a nationally representative sample of consumers as well as a survey asking physicians how they address the issue of medication affordability. Survey respondents reported that had to make tradeoffs between paying for the medications they needed and necessities such as groceries and health care. Health insurance plans with very high deductibles forced many to shop around for lower prices and not use their insurance, said Lisa Gill, deputy editor of Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs.

“Consumers aren’t used to questioning prices for pharmaceutical drugs—nor are they used to shopping around and haggling—but they could save themselves a lot of money if they do,” Gill said in a statement.

The new report found that consumers who experienced higher drug prices in the last 12 months were more likely to economize with their health in potentially dangerous ways. The following statistics compare all survey respondents taking a prescription drug with those who experienced a price increase: not complying with prescription medications to save money (33% vs 47%), putting off doctors’ visits because of cost (18% vs 28%), declining a medical test or procedure because of cost (14% vs 23%), and not filling a prescription because of cost (17% vs 30%), taking an expired medication (12% vs 19%), or not taking a scheduled dosage or prescribed medication to save money (10% vs 17%).

The survey also found that in the past year, consumers who took prescription medications took the following steps in order to pay for their prescription medications: spent less on entertainment and dining out (24% of all respondents vs 38% of those experiencing a price increase), got an insurance policy that covered medications (20% vs 24%), spent less on groceries (17% vs 31%), used credit cards more often (15% vs 25%), spend less on family (14% vs 25%), postponed paying other bills (11% vs 19%), postponed retirement to maintain health insurance coverage (6% vs 10%), and took a second job(4% vs 7%).

Consumer Reports identified 5 key reasons for the rise in drug prices profiled in their report:

  • There are no government bodies or laws dictating or restricting prices that can be set for drugs by pharmaceutical companies.
  • Insurance companies are charging patients higher copays and deductibles.
  • Old drugs are reformulated as costly new drugs (“evergreening”) to extend patent life and increase profits.
  • Generic drug shortages can trigger huge price increases. (Overall, prices of generics increased by almost 9% between November 2013 and November 2014.)
  • Specialty drugs are costing all consumers even though they now account for less than 1% of US prescriptions.

Finally, the survey found that despite the burdens created by higher drug prices, only one-fourth of consumers surveyed said they discussed drug costs with their practitioners. Of those who did have such a discussion, 64% said they initiated it--a finding corroborated by the results of Consumer Report’s survey of internal medicine physicians. The physicians said in a typical week they discuss drug costs with only 2.6 of 10 patients, even though 80% of the physicians said they were concerned about their patients’ ability to pay for their treatments.