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Doubling Prescription Drug Costs to $660 billion Will Reduce Healthcare Costs by Trillions – Yes Really!

May 2, 2018
Posted by: Gerald “Pharmacist Jerry” Finken, RPh, MS; Contributor: Martha E. Morton

Doubling Prescription Drug Costs to $660 billion Will Reduce Healthcare Costs by Trillions - Yes Really!

Whether we are healthcare professionals or patients, most of us are well aware and concerned with ever-increasing healthcare costs in the US. If the data is correct, it is valid to be concerned since overall healthcare costs have now reached $3.3 trillion, running around $10,348 per person per year.  The United States leads the world in health care expenses, followed by Switzerland and Sweden. Sadly, our nation’s health outcomes do not match the high expense. The US ranks eleventh among other nations in overall health performance, including overall health outcomes. This is shown graphically below in the figures labeled Exhibit 1 and 3.  To better understand what is going on, we MUST start asking questions and look for solutions.

diagram1

diagram2

Some blame the pharmaceutical industry and the cost of prescription medications for the elevated cost of healthcare. You would be surprised to know that prescription medication expenses count for approximately 10% of overall healthcare costs, at about $330 billion a year. That leaves around 90% to other medical services or resources. The breakdown as of 2016 is shown below in a chart, named Healthcare Expenditures 2016.

diagram3

Why don’t health outcomes correlate with the amount spent on healthcare?

There are multiple reasons why healthcare costs are soaring above and beyond past years, but as a pharmacist, I will discuss just one area that I know well, medication nonadherence. Nonadherence costs alone add up to more than $289B, nearing the exact cost of prescription medications. Medication nonadherence is when a patient does not follow their medication regimen as prescribed. According to Dr. Chisolm Burns and Dr. Spivey, consequences of straying from the prescribed therapy could include, but are not limited to: worsened condition, rise in comorbid diseases, or death. The result is an increase in healthcare costs.

Why are patients non-adherent?

Medication non-adherence can be intentional or unintentional. Unintentional medication nonadherence means a patient simply forgot to take their medication. Interestingly, most patients that do not take their medications correctly do so intentionally. According to an article published by AMA Wire, there are eight reasons that stand out, above others, why patients do not take their medications as prescribed:

diagram4

What can be done to encourage medication adherence?

Many of the issues mentioned above can be solved by proper education and continuous evaluation of patients by their pharmacist and other healthcare professionals.  Increasing financial support for digital technology, medication therapy management, medication synchronization and pill burden reduction can not only make success possible in the drive for medication adherence but also positively influence the economics of healthcare. I’d take this one step further. How exactly?

I propose that the US double the cost of prescription drugs and allot more money to the pharmaceutical industry and pharmacist services. The net result would be a huge savings for the healthcare industry.

Yes, You Read it Right the First Time

I know how this sounds—more money for prescription drugs? Crazy. They’re already expensive enough. And, why increase the profits of the perceived bad guys: the pharmaceutical industry?

Well these same bad guys are the ones researching and providing many life-saving medications that have changed our lives for the better. Look, I am not in favor of lining the pockets of the “want-to-be” pharmaceutical companies who are not doing research and only looking at profits.  Rather, I believe more funds are necessary for serious scientific growth and pharmaceutical research with the goal of providing better medications and the best care possible for each individual patient by their pharmacist. Though the cost of prescriptions and related pharmacist services would be higher, it would greatly improve patient outcomes and have a major impact on overall healthcare costs. After all, the cost of preventative action in healthcare is much less than the cost of corrective action.

So, yes, I am in favor of doubling the costs of prescription drugs to $660 billion or even higher to secure a trillion dollar healthcare savings.  Good idea? What do you think?

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