Medication Cost Hikes Catch Eye of Religious Groups

By Emily Murray

A recent Wall Street Journal article once again brought the rising cost of prescription drugs to the forefront of many people’s minds. If you have been taking prescription medication for years or even months, you have likely already noticed an increase in cost and for many, the breaking point seems dangerously near.

It’s a catch 22 of sorts, you pay for your prescription because you need it and then prices continue to hike and you have no choice but to continue dishing out money or compromise your health by not taking it any more.

However one , perhaps unlikely, group of rivals of the rising drug cost trend has recently come forward to make a change. While many may wonder about the ethics of hiking rates of essentially a “captive audience” of users, an order of Catholic nuns, a Catholic hospital chain and others from the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility want several companies to practice “price restraint.” In fact, they are specifically talking to four of the manufacturers which they hold stock in – Pfizer, J&J, Bristol Myers Squibb Co. and Abbot Laboratories.

For companies like Pfizer, who still hold the patents for erectile dysfunction medication like Viagra, the lack of competition (from actual legit companies) allows for a near monopoly. Many speculate that this is why we have been seeing a huge boom in illegal “generic” erectile dysfunction drugs over the Internet. For those who are new patients, you can see why so many give into the temptation when pills are advertised online as “the real thing, only cheaper.” As manufacturers continue to raise prices, criminals prosper by offering false (and often dangerous) counterfeit “generics” and those trying to save a buck get hurt in the mix. It seems that the patient can’t win.

So what needs to be done about this? Well ideally, the patent will run out on many of these medications and then actual legal generics can be manufactured. Until this happens though, many would be content to see a freeze on prices.

If we look at the very beginning of Viagra prices for example, a 100 pill bottle of the “little blue pill” was $700 (at wholesale cost) . Now the wholesale cost for the same amount creeps closer and closer to $2,000.

So why do manufacturers continue to raise rates? According to the same WSJ article, many have done so in order to counteract the damaging effects the healthcare overhaul has had on the industry and for those manufacturers who have expired patents, they are competing with generics to make a profit. One example of this is the increase in Pfizer’s cholesterol management drug Lipitor which is now available in a less expensive generic version.

Like any debate however, there are those who support price restraints and those who oppose the idea. As explained in the article, those in favor of putting an end to prescription cost hikes believe that applying  a cap more closely adheres with the overall goal of the healthcare overhaul – make health care affordable for all. “Price increases hurt patients’ ability to adhere to their prescriptions.” While this point seems a difficult one to argue with, manufacturers still maintain they must keep making a profit and shareholders in some of these companies fear they would lose capital as a result as well. Manufacturers must also front the costs for teams of researchers and developers, which is also quite costly to maintain.

In order to allow more and more patients to actually be able to afford their medication, the Sisters of Charity’s shareholder proposal is asking companies to “limit price increases to the previous year’s Consumer Price Index, a gauge of inflation that last year came in at 1.5%, ” writes the WSJ reporter Peter Loftus.

While more low income insurance plans and other health care assistant programs are created to help patients pay for their medications, manufacturers will always have a fight on their hands when it comes to justifying their continual hike in prices.

What do you think? Have you experienced price hikes in any of your prescriptions? What do you do to counteract the rising costs?