Out-of-pocket drug costs fuel rogue pharmacy fears

Rising out-of-pocket healthcare costs could be placing Americans at elevated risk of encountering counterfeit medicines.

Faced with the increase, older people in the US are turning to online pharmacies to try to save money on prescription medicines, and may therefore unwittingly be exposed to sites peddling falsified medicines, according to the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP).

ASOP is joining forces with the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP) and National Consumers League (NCL) to educate seniors and their caregivers about the health and financial risks associated with buying prescription medicines from illegal or rogue online pharmacies and provide the tools they need to stay safe when shopping for prescription drugs online.

Earlier this year, a study by Avalere Health found that the proportion of medicines that now require co-insurance payments under Medicare Part D - which covers prescription drug costs - has risen from 35 per cent in 2014 to 58 per cent last year.

Most Part D beneficiaries are senior citizens and some can expect to pay thousands of dollars out-of-pocket if their treatment is a specialty drug, according to figures supplied by Kaiser Family Foundation.

In a study published earlier this year, KFF found that for 12 specialty drugs used to treat four health conditions - hepatitis C, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer - Part D beneficiaries face at least $4,000 and as much as nearly $12,000 in out-of-pocket costs in 2016 for one drug alone.

"10,000 people turn 65 years of age every day in the US," said ASOP global executive director Libby Baney.

"Escalating costs for hundreds of drugs prescribed to treat chronic conditions not necessarily covered fully by Medicare make it more likely that seniors, who often are living on fixed incomes, will turn to the Internet to look for less expensive options.

Meanwhile, the out-of-pocket trend for seniors is also mirrored in the working population. Another recent KFF analysis looking at workers covered by employer's health plans found that average out-of-pocket costs grew 77 per cent between 2004 and 2014. Overall, costs rose from an average of $422 in 2004 to $747 in 2014.

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