Popping pills- the next big cost driver of health care (as if it isn’t already)

20140130-144823.jpgMany Americans believe life can go on merely by popping pills and more pills. And why not, it’s mostly easy, someone else is paying, the side effects are ignored (or in such small print or spoken so quickly you can’t find out what they are if you wanted to).

I was having lunch with some business associates a few years back. One of them ordered a decidedly unhealthy meal of a cheeseburger, fries, and onion rings washed down with a few beers. “Hey, aren’t you supposed to be watching that high cholesterol of yours?” One to the guys asked. “Not to worry.” The offender said, “I’ll just pop an extra Lipitor.” I think he was missing the point.

Add to this the barrage of advertising for prescription drugs and you have the perfect storm … of costs versus sometimes marginal benefits. My favorites are those ads for a drug followed by descriptions of minor side effects that seem far worse than the condition being treated. You know, like a drug for depression that may increase thoughts of suicide or a arthritic drug that can lead to cancer or sometimes death. Hey, go for it.

Humira that well publicized arthritis drug had sales of $11 billion in 2013 as the world’s leading Rx. Enbrel, our golfing buddies favorite costs $18,000 for a years treatment. What’s that a $300 a month co-payment? 😜

But there is another price to pay. In the UK the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence decided that a new drug should not be routinely prescribed for breast cancer since it cost $140,000 for a treatment; rationale or rationing?

Biological drugs and those treating relatively rare conditions are most expensive and more are coming down the pike. For society and especially individuals directly benefiting from these drugs, it’s all good. For health care costs, not so much and sooner or later we must make hard choices about cost vs benefits.

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