Commentary: Road map to cheaper prescription drugs
Prescription drugs currently make up 17 percent of total healthcare costs in the United States. With the cost of prescription drugs steadily increasing at a faster rate than other health care functions, this percentage is guaranteed to grow. The average price of insulin, for instance, nearly tripled between 2002 and 2013. Legislators at both the national and state levels have taken note of rising prescription costs.
On both fronts, legislation has been proposed that prohibits insurance companies and their pharmacy benefit managers (the companies that negotiate prescription prices for their plans) from keeping the difference when the total cost of a prescription drug is less than a patient’s co-pay. In other words, discounts can be delivered directly to patients and not captured by insurance companies or pharmacy benefit managers.
Unfortunately, creating and passing legislation takes time and is no guarantee of results. Delawareans need relief from prescription drug prices now. The Department of Insurance can help. If you qualify for and utilize Medicare Part D, our Delaware Medicare Assistance Bureau can help by explaining Medicare prescription plans and offering cost-saving advice. Delawareans not using Medicare, but in need of help understanding their prescription plans, can call our consumer services division with questions.
While the Department of Insurance can explain prescription benefits, we can’t make prices cheaper. In this case, consumers really need to be their own advocates. Start by talking to your doctor. Saving money on prescriptions can be as simple as asking about cost-saving measures. More often than not, doctors are unaware of the cost of prescription drugs. Understanding that the cost is a burden may help your doctor help you. Something as simple as how a doctor writes a prescription can determine cost.
For instance, writing ”fill as directed” means no generic substitutions. Generic substitutions can be less expensive and may be just as effective. In addition to more careful deliberation when it comes to writing prescriptions, doctors may be able to offer coupons or free samples. Free samples can be helpful if you’re trying out a new drug and want to make sure it works before you pay to fill an entire script’s worth.
Beyond the doctor’s office, many of the major pharmaceutical companies offer assistance programs. Generally, consumers go through an application process involving paperwork and some coordination with their doctor. The process can be time consuming, and often consumers must reapply each time their prescription runs out, but in some cases it can mean free or almost free prescriptions. Although the Department of Insurance does not endorse any specific company or service, our research has found that free services are available online that can help match you to applicable assistance programs. Beware of any program that charges a fee for this service.
A quick and easy way to get your prescriptions for less is to go high-tech with downloadable prescription pricing apps. Once the app is installed, you simply search for a prescribed drug, input the dosage and quantity prescribed, and set location preferences. With the push of a button, the app will then generate a list of pharmacies in the vicinity and display the cost of the prescription. In addition to finding the cheapest place to fill your prescription, these apps may also offer information on the drug itself, cost saving tips, and relevant news items. Pharmacy benefit managers offer similar apps that help their consumers compare prices, track the status of home delivery prescriptions, and monitor prescription claims and history.
If you or a family member are diabetic and in need of emergency insulin or supplies, reach out to the Emergency Medical Diabetes Fund via your closest Delaware State Service Center or by calling the Delaware Helpline at 1-800-464-4357 or dialing 211.
The cost of health care and prescription drugs is on the rise in the United States. While legislation aimed at easing the burden of prescription costs is in the works, Delawareans may be able to find help now. The Delaware Department of Insurance is happy to assist. Call us at 302-674-7300.
Trinidad Navarro is Delaware Insurance Commissioner. The Delaware Department of Insurance protects Delawareans through regulation and education while providing oversight of the insurance industry to best serve the public.