Cure Sought for Soaring Prices of Generic Drugs

By Hirst, Ellen Jean | Telegraph - Herald (Dubuque), November 30, 2014 | Go to article overview

Cure Sought for Soaring Prices of Generic Drugs


Hirst, Ellen Jean, Telegraph - Herald (Dubuque)


Questions, answers - What is a generic drug? Generic drugs are chemically identical to brand name drugs, equally effective and prescribed for the same purposes. - How do generic drugs come to market? Drug companies submit an application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval to make and sell a generic drug, but those applications can't be approved until the all patents and exclusivity for the brand-name drug have expired. Patents expire after 20 years and exclusivity can last up to 7 years. - Why were generic drugs introduced? Generic drugs help combat the rising cost of health care and allow market competition for brand-name drugs. - Who makes generic drugs? The top five U.S. companies by unbranded generic prescriptions dispensed are Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Mylan Labs, Actavis, Sandoz, and Lupin Pharma, respectively, according to the Generic Pharmaceutical Association. Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Generic Pharmaceutical AssociationCHICAGO - After calling for a routine prescription refill, Craig Elliott got a rude shock: His bill was going up fivefold.

The 44-year-old piano tuner and guitar instructor, who has health insurance, used to pay $20 for a three-month supply of his generic epilepsy drug as a member of Walgreen's Prescription Savings Club. But recently, the price shot up to more than $100, forcing him to order month by month.

"I'll get by, (but) I don't like now having a larger bill every month," Elliott said.

Countless other Americans are feeling the same sticker shock at the drug store. Historically costing pennies on the dollar compared with a brand-name drug, generic drugs have long been considered a vital weapon in the fight to contain soaring health care costs. But in the past year, the price of many generics is disconcertingly moving in the wrong direction, drawing the attention of Congress and pinching the wallets of consumers as well as pharmacies and insurers.

"We are talking about the need of the American people to be able to afford the medicine that their doctors prescribe," U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of a Senate health care subcommittee, said at a hearing on the issue earlier this month. "There appears to be now a trend in the industry where a number of drugs are going up at extraordinary rates. We wanted to know if there was a rational economic reason as to why patients saw these price increases or whether it was simply a question of greed."

Experts say raw-material shortages, consolidation in the industry and medical advancements that make replicating brand-name drugs more expensive have all contributed to skyrocketing costs.

According to Catamaran, a pharmacy benefit manager that administers prescription drug programs, consumers and insurers paid an average of $41.88 for a generic drug prescription in recent years, up from a four-year average of $14.21 between 2005 and 2009. Today, more than a third of available generics cost insurers and consumers more than $100 per prescription, company data show.

"People who don't have insurance, they're picking up the full fare of these drugs," said Catamaran's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Sumit Dutta. "And they're often not in the best place to handle the cost of these medications."

A Pembroke Consulting analysis of federal data shows that the price pharmacies pay for generics over the past year has soared, too, by as much as 17,700 percent. …

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