Looking ahead to heal the problem
Rising prescription drug costs have put a strain on families from all corners of America. On Tuesday and Wednesday, we showed the past and present of the pharmaceutical fight. Now, we look to the future and look towards solution to the problem.
In room 9 at the St. Vincent Infirmary, Dr. Bushra Shah visits with her patient, 61-year-old Dena Fowler. These examination rooms are the heart of American medicine. It was in this type of room where Dena, suffering from migraines, high blood pressure, and diabetes, found out she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The pain doesn't end for Dena at her illnesses because her husband, Johnny, epileptic. Both husband and wife require multiple medications to fight their ailments.
"Insurance doesn't want to pay for his. We've really struggled with that fight," Dena explained. "So, my medicine will get secondary to making sure he gets his first and sometimes I won't get mine because I've gotta get his first."
It is this dire struggle, that Dr. Shah said, that families face the difference between life and death. She said it could limit a physician's ability to effectively treat a patient. Without proper medications, people like Dena can suffer just to see Johnny survive.
That's where someone like Carla LeMay can step in and give patients that extra help. As a hospital social worker, LeMay hears the heartbreaking stories day-in and day-out. She said she's seen patients "bounce back" into the hospital because patients can't afford their medication. No medication means the sickness returns and so too do the patients.
"And they'll say they couldn't afford it," LeMay said. "Why didn't you call? Why didn't you tell us? Why didn't you ask?"
Just by calling the hospital, LeMay said, is the number one way patients can start to save money. The questions run in LeMay's head; Are there other medicines that can do the same thing? Does it have to be this specific medicine?
A website like NeedyMeds could help Dena and Johnny both get their medication without having to sacrifice their health. NeedyMeds is a website designed to help the public find cheaper pharmaceutical alternatives. It offers coupons, rebates, and even allows you to sign up for a drug discount card.
"Calling and networking is the biggest thing and making people aware of what's out there and that there are other options than not taking their meds," LeMay said.
But Dr. Shah that networking and researching is not enough. She said the solution to the pharmaceutical fight starts from the top.
"Access to health care and affordability of medications should be a fundamental right of every citizen in this county," Shah suggested.
Congressman for Arkansas' 2nd Congressional District is among those who have said he wants answers from pharmaceutical companies on the high drug costs and the ever-increasing price hikes. He wants to understand why this price jump is happening that way politicians can correct the policy environment which has caused it.
"They can't sugar coat the answer by just doing discount coupons," Hill said.
In the 114th Congress, Hill said that he voted on a bill (H.R. 6, the 21st Century Act) that would have helped the situation patients face. He said it would speed up the FDA's drug approval process. Specifically, he said it focused on the monopoly-type pricing that pharmaceutical companies seem to employ.
"It also prioritizes how basic research money for the Federal Government goes to the [National Institute of Health] and it prioritizes diseases that hurt out families the most and cost our families the most pain," Hill explained.
But sometimes patients like Dena can't wait for bills to pass, they need the help now. The medication for Dena or Johnny could run out before they have a chance to afford the next refill. It's that dilemma that puts not only the worry on the patients but the doctors as well.
"You want to help your patients, you know how to help your patients, but how do you get it to them and see it work," Dr. Shah said.
Even though our story ends, we know the pharmaceutical fight will continue. Please continue to share your stories with THV11 so we can continue investigating and searching for an answer.