Su Lum: The very high cost of living
December 4, 2002
Through my health insurance at The Aspen Times, my prescriptions cost $10 for generic and $20 for nongeneric drugs, which is a very good deal unless you have a bad health month, and then those co-pays really start adding up.
I recently had such a month, so I decided to do a little research with the help of Jerry Pearce, the pharmacy manager at Carl’s. I gave Jerry a list of all the prescriptions I’d filled in October, asked what they would have cost if I were uninsured, and came up with some startling data.
Sixteen prescriptions were involved. They cost me $260 in co-pay, but would have cost $900 if I weren’t insured.
Half of them were for generic drugs ? I paid $100 for those eight prescriptions, which would otherwise have cost $155, not a dramatic savings. But for the remaining eight, which were nongeneric, I paid $160 for what would have, uninsured, cost $745!
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise to realize, going down the list looking at the ones I’d marked G for generic, that the generic drugs are what you’d consider “optional,” while the nongenerics are the ones needed for life support.
Hormones, for instance, are cheap. Sleep aids and inhalers are cheap.
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But if you get a bladder infection or the flu, something really needing to be fixed, that’s expensive: one round each of Cipro and Tequin (my total $40) would have been $161.50 and $104.25 in real life.
Three lifelong meds for blood pressure and triclycerides, which cost me $60 in co-pay, would normally cost $255 per month.
Diabetes is expensive: $56 for glucophage, and $88 for a month’s worth of the strips you put your drop of blood on to test your glucose levels (the needles are cheap), two more lifelong commitments. Those five lifelongs add up to $100 in co-pay, but $400/month for an uninsured Jane Doe. Medicare won’t cover any of it, and they’re not even tax deductible unless the costs exceed 10% of your income.
I could probably do without the nasal spray which, to my astonishment ($20 in co-pay already seemed high for a bottle of nose drops), would ordinarily have cost $79.50. But the bottom line is that even stripped to the bone, my meds would cost around $500/month just to maintain, and godknows if I could even GET supplemental insurance at this point if I quit my job, retired and moved to sea level, which people are always asking me why I haven’t done already.
The drug companies are masters at keeping one step ahead of the law, which requires them to put their drugs into the generic domain after a limited time frame. All they have to do is tweak the formula, turning Prilosec (an expensive antacid) into Nexion, and voila, they have a new nongeneric drug and are out of the loop.
Never in history have our young, healthy people been more panic-stricken about their health, yet never have we lived so long as we’re living now. Out of this dichotomy comes the question: what to do with the old and infirm? And the drug and insurance companies seem to have come up with the answer: lull the youth with cheap co-pays for expensive insurance, get them on preventive drugs for all the dire ills their DNA’s might predict, and then, when something really happens to you, pull the rug out and you’re on your own, kid.
Here’s looking at you, kid.
[Su Lum is a longtime local who is glad that aspirin is still cheap. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.]
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