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Ventura County Perspective

The Cost of Medication Is Enough to Make You Sick

Pharmaceutical companies receive huge grants, patent the drugs they produce and then charge what they want. The consumer pays and pays.

September 24, 2000|MARGARET MORRIS | Margaret Morris is a marriage and family therapist who lives in Ventura

The object in my palm was less than three inches of ordinary gray plastic with a tiny cartridge within containing enough measured doses for maybe one month. It did not look like $90.

My doctor had told me to increase my use of the medication, a steroid anti-inflammatory, because she thought my asthma could be better controlled with more frequent administration. Knowing that the inhaler I had was insufficient for the increased frequency, I attempted to get a second one but was told that my insurance would not pay for it so soon.

"You can pay cash, though," the clerk informed me.

"How much is it?" I asked.

"$90."

"What do people without insurance do? Not breathe?" I blurted.

She replied, sensibly, "I don't know."

Neither do I, but now I'm worried.

Recently, my 90-year-old cousin was forced to leave her Oregon home of 40 years when her health maintenance organization dropped Medicare and she could obtain no other provider locally. Her medicine cost alone, she said, was $500 a month.

Oh well, I thought, she must be very sick.

But I began to do the math. Although I'm healthy, a stubborn, allergy-driven asthma forces me to use four prescription medications--an antihistamine, a nasal spray, a bronchial dilator and the steroid anti-inflammatory. And then there are two glaucoma medications--to prevent blindness.

If I priced it out, it would come pretty close to my cousin's medication budget. And I'm not 90, and I'm not particularly sick.

Fortunately, my insurance covers most of the heavy cost. But what about people without insurance? What do they do if they have diabetes? Or AIDS? And they can't qualify for Medi-Cal because they aren't broke yet?

I know what some of them do. Many stock up on prescription drugs in Mexico, where they are significantly cheaper, enough to justify the trip. Why are Mexico's prices are so much lower?

Other countries put a cap on what can be charged for medications. In this country, pharmaceutical companies receive grants to develop new drugs both from private foundations and from taxpayers through government funds. They then patent what they develop, acquiring a monopoly on the product, for which they can charge what they want.

Why are we so nice to drug companies? They aren't nice to us.

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