Niagara Gazette

Features

February 23, 2014

HIGH COST OF HEALTH CARE: As health care costs level, pharmaceuticals take a wild jump

LEWISTON — Standing behind the counter, filling prescriptions for drugs that many of his customers’ lives depend on, pharmacist Charles Barone has a microscopic view of just who the nation’s health care programs are serving — and right now, it’s not him.

Because, while health care costs seem to be finally stabilizing, prices for some generic prescription drugs have increased by thousands of dollars since last year. Worse, he says health insurance companies don’t seem to want to pay the difference.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Barone, a Grand Island resident and owner of Ivylea Pharmacy in Kenmore. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my 12 years doing business.”

Barone said he’s seen some drug prices rise a hundredfold since last year. For example, he cites a heart drug called Digoxin, which was $84 a bottle in September and now is selling for $862 a bottle.

And while some generic drug manufacturers are raising their prices prohibitively, insurance companies are slow to update their computers and often refuse to pay the increased prices, paying instead the much lower price in their computer database, he said. 

“The drug industry is broken,” Barone said. “The system is not working.”

Dennis Galluzzo, executive director of the Pharmacist’s Association of WNY, is leading efforts to stem the rising tide of generic drug prices and help get pharmacists to correct reimbursements. He feels the burdens of his members from his pharmacy in Amherst.

“Last year, I was able to purchase doxecyline, a very common antibiotic, for $30 for a bottle of 500,” he said. “I am now paying $1,390.75 for 500 capsules.”

He said his fellow pharmacists are frustrated by industry reimbursements measures by unregulated decision makers using outdated price lists. “They’ll tell me I can get a drug for ten bucks when in reality I’m paying twenty times the cost ... you can’t run a business when you’re getting reimbursed below your costs. It just doesn’t happen.”

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