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Massive mark-ups: Why Congress failed to stop the rising cost of prescription drugs

(Pixabay / MGN)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (WPEC) - The ballooning cost of some prescription drugs is now driving people to choose whether they pay their bills or pay for the medicines they desperately need.

CBS12 Investigates found Congress has failed multiple times to pass legislation that would allow the federal government to negotiate prices with the pharmaceutical industry.

And even if you don’t use any prescriptions, we as a country end up paying for them in additional taxes, increased insurance rates and homelessness.

AMANDA’S STORY

Amanda Merten has epilepsy. And after decades of seizures, she relies on physical therapy.

We met up with her when she was playing the piano to help loosen up her hands and fingers.

“I always have to work because it hurts my hands,” she said.

Amanda needs three different, very expensive medications to keep her epilepsy at bay.

“My life literally depends on these medications," Amanda said. “If I didn't have these medications, I would have non-stop seizures all day every day."

Eventually, Amanda lost her home. She became homeless - not once, but twice.

"I had to spend every penny I had on my medication because my life depended on it."

BIG PHARMA

The Journal of the American Medical Association reported between 2008 and 2015, there was a whopping 164-percent price increase for brand-name drugs.

Amanda's have gone up as much as 26 percent in just over a year, according to data from Medicaid.gov.

So, why the increases?

And how are drug companies allowed to keep raising prices?

We asked U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., why Congress isn't doing anything to stop it.

The Florida Democrat told us he's written amendments and bills to allow the federal government to negotiate drug prices, but none of them became law.

In January, Nelson cosponsored an amendment (S.Amdt.9 to S.Con.Res.3) to allow the secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate for the best possible price for prescription drugs for Medicare.

Nelson also filed legislation that month (S.Amdt.13 to S.Con.Res.3) to prevent Congress from repealing key provisions of the Affordable Care Act that have, on average, saved many of Florida’s Medicare-covered seniors nearly $1,000 per year on the cost of their prescription drugs.

In February, Nelson filed the Medicare Drug Savings Act of 2017 (S. 252) to require drug companies to provide rebates for drugs dispensed to dual-eligible people who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid.

Nelson said by Congress not acting, it is costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

He said Americans are paying more for prescription drugs because of politics, “because of the power of the pharmaceutical lobby."

That industry gave lawmakers $58,959,125 during the last election and $353,323,247 in total since 1990.

CHEAPER ALTERNATIVES

So, now you now know the problem, but what is the solution?

Short of Congress taking action, there are things you can do:

  • According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, about 19 million Americans have purchased cheaper drugs online from countries. Just make sure you are buying them from a legitimate pharmacy.
  • Contact the drug manufacturer; some drug makers have programs that help patients pay for the prescription.
  • Talk with your doctor or pharmacist about cheaper alternatives. Often times, name-brand medications are made up of a combination of two or more already well-known existing medicines. It is often cheaper to get those separate prescriptions than the new name brand.

Lead pharmacist at City Center Pharmacy in West Palm Beach told CBS12 Investigates in our report, Unlocking drug makers’ secrets: Cheaper substitutions to costly prescription drugs

The following are possible substitutions you can take to save money, but you should discuss this with your doctor first:

  • Actoplus Met - instead take combination of Actos and Metformin
  • Avandamet - instead take combination of Avandia and Metformin
  • Avandaryl - instead take combination of Avandia and Glimepiride
  • Duetact - instead take combination of Actos and Glimepiride
  • Glucovance - instead take combination of Glyburide and Metformin
  • Janumet - instead take combination of Januvia and Metformin
  • Metaglip - instead take combination of Glipizide and Metformin
  • PrandiMet - instead take combination of Prandin and Metformin
  • Lotrel - instead take combination of Amlodipine and Benazepril
  • Exforge - instead take combination of Amlodipine and Valsartan
  • Twynsta - instead take combination of Amlodipine and Telmisartan
  • Avalide - instead take combination of Irbesartan and HCTZ
  • Diovan HCT - instead take combination of Valsartan and HCTZ
  • Hyzaar - instead take combination of Losartan and HCTZ
  • Benicar HCT - instead take combination of Olmesartan and Hydrochlorothiazide
  • Contrave - instead take combination of Bupropion and Naltrexone
  • Treximet - instead take combination of Naproxen and Sumatriptan

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