New Orleans Drug pricing almost defines predatory activity. Big and little pharma set the prices based on their perverse calculations of scarcity in the market based on US patent privileges and the desperate needs of patients whose health needs trump their consumer interests. Add to this scam the fact that lower prices can be negotiated by big hospital chains and the government, and the whole shebang is inflated by pass-throughs to insurance companies and again the government through federal and state health programs. No surprise then that our health costs are the highest in the world. Regularly, we read about new drugs for specific maladies that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, while we also read about efforts to cap the cost of more common prescriptions like those for diabetes becoming such a largely political issue that even Congress claims to be concerned. I say “claim”, because there are few up there that aren’t on the dole for campaign contributions from these same drug pushers.
All of which fixed my eyes on an article on the back pages of The Wall Street Journal about some efforts to disrupt this particular market by pushing cheaper alternatives in accessing generic drugs. And, yes, this is personal to me. I’m lucky that over the last twenty years or so, I’ve only had to regularly refill one prescription, and that’s for cholesterol. For a long time that mean Lipitor, but when, finally, their patent was broken it meant a generic drug, something called Atorvastatin. Even with Medicare and a Blue Cross supplemental policy, my local neighborhood pharmacy hits me with a $ 70-something co-pay every three months on the refill. Not the biggest problem in my world, but a burr in my saddle regularly ticks me off, especially when I can remember paying hardly ten bucks years ago.
So, I’m all for disruption and full-on anarchy in this industry to lower all of our prices even if it is hard to love the disrupters. One is Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks NBA team and regularly pontificated on all manner of topics, and the other is Amazon. Both have rolled out pricing for generics. Amazon has two prices, one with insurance and one without. Cuban’s Cost Plus Drug Company doesn’t take insurance, but in some kind of interesting alchemy offers pricing that at first glance seems even better on the 100 generics they distribute.
Take my Atorvastatin for example. On Amazon, without insurance I can get a 30-day supply of the 10-milligram strength I’m prescribed for a bit less than $8 for a 30-day supply. The Journal claims for Prime members, it may be possible for some generics, maybe even mine, for $5 per month. I’ve been buying a 90-day supply on my pharmacy charge for $70 plus, so I would be saving about $50. Going with Mark Cuban with no insurance and delivery by mail looks like the sticker price for a 30-day supply is less than $4 from what I can tell, half even what Amazon seems to be hawking without Prime and maybe a buck less with Prime, if I’m right. All of this is better than what’s on offer at the local drugstore, where the price is being hiked up for the generic and you still may be paying the copay even while under public or private medical coverage.
Bottom line, there may be other companies as well and even rumors of nonprofits gearing qup to make a go of it, but I only have one horse in this race, which is rooting for any and all that force the price of critical drugs down to the level where everyone who needs them, can afford to take him for good health and longer lives.