Prescription Prices Are Too Damn High

Our nation loves prescriptions.

According to researchers at the Mayo Clinic and Olmsted Medical Center, “Nearly 70% of Americans take one prescription drug and more than half take two.”

It gets better. Approximately 20% of Americans use at least five prescription medications. Imagine the cost savings if Direct Care doctors directly prescribed a majority of these at wholesale prices.

Prescription drug use has been increasing steadily in the U.S. for the last ten years.

So what drugs are being prescribed, and why?

The most recent data available, an April 2012 study by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, a company that tracks sales at the pharmacy level for drug companies, shows that the top five medicines prescribed in the U.S. in 2011 were:

  • Hydrocodone/acetaminophen
  • Levothyroxine sodium
  • Simvastatin
  • Lisinopril
  • Amlodipine besylate

These drugs are being prescribed in the millions, according to the IMS Institute. The numbers of prescriptions for each range from a high of 136 million for hydrocodone/acetaminophen and 104 million for Levothyroxine sodium to 96 million for Simvastatin, 88.8 million for Lisinopril, and 62.5 million for Amlodipine besylate.

What are these drugs used for?
The top drugs treat a variety of ailments — pain, high blood pressure, high cholesterol…

  • Hydrocodone/acetaminophen is the nation’s most popular painkiller, used to treat moderate to severe pain. Hydrocodone, a narcotic analgesic, relieves pain through the central nervous system, and it also is used to stop or prevent coughing. This drug’s reputation precedes it, as it can become habit-forming when used over an extended period of time.
  • Levothyroxine sodium is used to treat hypothyroidism, a condition where the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough of the thyroid hormone. This drug also is used to treat thyroid cancer and to help shrink an enlarged thyroid gland.
  • Simvastatin (generic Zocor) is prescribed to treat high cholesterol and is typically recommended in conjunction with diet changes. This drug is believed to have a variety of benefits, including helping to prevent heart attacks and strokes.
  • Lisinopril (which used to be sold under the brand names Zestril and Prinivil) is a high blood pressure medication. Its main function is to block chemicals in the body that trigger the tightening of blood vessels. Lisinopril also is used to help treat heart failure.
  • Amlodipine besylate is used to treat high blood pressure. It’s used either alone or in conjunction with other medicines. Amlodipine is also used for chest pain.

What do these drugs cost?
The cost of each of these drugs is a slippery subject, as the price is contingent on region, and whether you’re going through insurance or getting them from a wholesale provider like Atlas MD.

Cost also varies based on how many tablets are in a prescription or how many milligrams are in each tablet. If you are prescribed a brand-name drug, ask for a generic. And if you’re buying from us, know that we’ll always offer generic since they are equivalent.

Brand names tend to be 80%-85% more expensive than generics, which legally cannot differ in efficacy, potency, quality, or safety.

Here are some cash price estimates for the drugs at CVS, based on GoodRx searches in San Francisco (we added our prices, too). Keep in mind that your costs will differ based on your insurance status and drug co-pays associated with your plan.

  • Levothyroxine sodium: $12 > Atlas MD gets Levothyroxine sodium 50mcg – 100 pills for $34.
  • Simvastatin: $38 > Atlas MD gets Simvastatin 20mg – 1000 pills for $22.
  • Lisinopril: $14 > Atlas MD gets Lisinopril 20mg – 1000  pills for $24.
  • Amlodipine besylate: $39 > Atlas MD gets Amlodipine besylate 10mg – 1000 pills for $18.

Discount programs
There are a variety of ways to save money on prescription drugs. If you’re paying cash for your prescription medications, look into drug coupons — from a website like GoodRx — or in weekly discount fliers and direct mailings from major pharmacies.

Another way to save money on prescriptions is to shop through an online pharmacy, which can shave 35% or more off the cost of your medication. If you go this route, your doctor can fax or mail the prescription to the online pharmacy, and then the medicine is mailed to you.

Washington and Kentucky offer drug discount cards for people who meet age and income requirements.

NeedyMeds is a non-profit organization that maintains a website about programs that can help people who can’t afford medication.

Also, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services maintains a website that connects people with prescription discount programs.

What about Direct Care practices like Atlas MD?
We’re here to help anyone who is interested in running a cash-only clinic. And we’re here to help these doctors offer wholesale prescriptions. We’ve developed a comprehensive EMR that helps docs manage patient records, subscription payments, tasks, and more. It also helps Direct Care docs dispense medications in-house and manage inventory.

Seriously, we’ve saved some of our patients an incredible amount of money on their meds. Some patients are MAKING money by subscribing to our clinic. Pretty cool, right?