COLUMBUS COUNTY, NC (WECT) - When you think about generic prescription drugs, you probably think bargain prices. But in recent months, the wholesale cost of dozens of generic drugs has been skyrocketing, and it's putting pharmacies and patients in a pinch.
Gloria DiPasquale has some significant health issues. She's on an arsenal of drugs to manage everything from emphysema to anxiety, and in recent months she's had sticker shock over her bill to fill those prescriptions. "They want $300 for a drug… It's not fair," DiPasquale complained to us.
She's not the only one reeling over the costs. Pharmacist Parks Thomas owns Riegelwood Mutual Drugs. He says his cost for dozens of generic drugs has skyrocketed. "I've been doing this for 30 years. And I've never seen increases like this. Never."
Antifungal creams that used to cost Thomas $5 now cost him $77. His cost for a bottle of Doxycycline went from $3 to $135. The anti-depressant Clomipramine that he used to pay $35 for now costs $605.
And the changes have all happened in a matter of months.
Since the insurance companies are typically slow to increase their reimbursement rate when the cost of a drug goes up, Thomas says he's had to quit stocking certain drugs so he won't have to fill them at a loss.
"I can't lose $50 on a prescription," he explained.
Thomas said he's had to send some patients to other pharmacies to fill prescriptions he can't, while he's seen plenty of other patients coming to him after being turned away by other pharmacies unable to fill their prescriptions.
This is happening to patients and pharmacies all over the country, and has affected both community pharmacies and larger chain drug stores.
The price increases have prompted many patients to do without their medications. Concerns about patients and complaints from physicians and pharmacists in our district prompted Representative Mike McIntyre to call for a congressional oversight hearing to determine why this is happening and what can be done.
Pharmaceutical economics expert Dr. Adam Fein tells us part of the problem is there are not very many manufacturers for a lot of these generics.
"We need to… make sure that as we manage generic reimbursement, we don't take the profits for these drugs so low, that no one wants to actually make these drugs for us," Fein said of the continually declining profit margins for many generics.
On top of limited supply causing price increases, Fein says recent quality control crackdowns have taken even more generic drugs off the market.
Trying to protect themselves in the event prices going even higher, many pharmacies have started to stockpile certain generic drugs. Ironically, experts say that is causing more shortages, and actually driving prices higher.
Because of the timing of these price spikes, many people have wondered if the Affordable Care Act is to blame.
Pharmaceutical experts tell us lower reimbursements for generic drugs under Medicaid will be very negative for the pharmacy industry, but the increased number of patients in the system should in theory be a good thing for pharmacists.
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