ALBANY -- If you take generic medications, you've likely noticed you're paying more for some of them. Certain drugs have quadrupled in price over the last year. Patients and pharmacists are furious and now lawmakers are looking to do something about it.
"Last month, I had to order like 6 different prescriptions and it came to quite a bit," says Arlene Laboy of Sloansville. She recently received a warning from her pharmacist that she was not expecting, "they have told me that some of my medications are going to be increased," she says.
Laboy, like millions of others, relies on a number of generic drugs to stay healthy and she's paying a lot more for a few of the same pills she's been taking for years. "It's a sporadic issue, it may be a handful of medications, maybe 15-20 at a time but what is incredible is the percentage of increase in price, something that could be 8 cents is now 9 dollars a pill," says John McDonald, owner of Marra's Pharmacy in Cohoes.
A few examples, the price of Doxycycline, an antibiotic used to treat infections went from $20 for a 100-pill bottle in October of 2013 to nearly $2,000 a year later, Albuterol Sulfate, a common asthma treatment shot from $11 per bottle to $434. "There are different reasons, sometimes valid reasonsthere may be a raw material shortage, an FDA inspection may close down a few facilities usually in a foreign country and then there are times there are no valid excuses, we don't get a valid reason," McDonald says.
Even if you're not taking any of the impacted medications, you're still paying for them, "we spend 15 cents of every premium dollar just on paying for drugs," says Paul Macielak, the President of the New York State Health Plan Association which represents insurers. And at the moment, he says, there is little oversight on how those prices are set, "pharmaceuticals today is the most profitable sector in healthcare, I mean I think the running profit is around 20%, overall that's more than five times what health plans and hospitals earn in terms of any kind of a margin, so that's something I think warrants somebody looking at," he says. Hearings are being held both on Capitol Hill and in Albany to discuss what can be done to increase transparency of generic drug pricing.
"For the most part, generics are very cost effective options, the problem is though when you have these roller coaster episodes, it really wreaks havoc in the market," McDonald says. The Generic Pharmaceutical Association says while there have been some price spikes, they do not reflect the broader U.S. market, which includes 12,000 generic medications. Either way, for Laboy who is on a fixed income, these ups and downs are causing some serious budget issues.