By GREGORY N. HEIRES
The January copay increases of the DC 37 Health & Security Plan’s prescription drug benefit show how we all are victims of the voracious pharmaceutical industry.
For years, the plan struggled to maintain the old copays. But with the skyrocketing cost of drugs, the plan’s trustees finally felt they had no choice but to approve the copay hikes.
As DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido has pointed out, drug costs will likely continue to rise until the government steps in to control the prices of the unregulated pharmaceutical industry.
“The pharmaceutical industry’s track record of corporate greed is reprehensible,” said Willie Chang, administrator of the plan. “We need to do whatever we can as consumers and individual activists to slow down price increases.”
Although consumers have little or no control over prices in the absence of a nationwide grassroots campaign to hold Big Pharma accountable, there’s action you can take to take the pressure off your pocketbook and to fight back.
Consider these steps:
● Support the union’s plan to improve the financial security of the plan, which faces a projected deficit of $90 million in fiscal year 2018 because the city’s welfare contributions fall short of meeting the plan’s expenses. (In the last eight years, drugs costs have gone up 108 percent while employer contributions that fund the plan have gone up 1.05 percent.)
To help the plan financially, DC 37 expects to reopen negotiations with the city to extend the union’s 2010-17 master contract, which covers about 90,000 members.
The union wants to extend the contract by two months and 23 days to obtain additional contributions from the city. By delaying pay increases, the union will be able to pour the savings into the fund.
A long-term remedy under consideration at the union is to devote a small portion of the money available for raises in future contracts to the prescription drug benefit.
Members and retirees can help the union by educating coworkers and friends about why the copay pay increases were needed.In addition to discussing the unfair prices underlying the plan’s financial difficulties, you should talk about the union’s possible remedies.
● Talk to your doctor about generic alternatives to more expensive brand-name drugs.
Of course, we do recognize that ethically-challenged physicians are part of the problem. A study by ProPublica, an investigative journalist non-profit group, found that, among doctors who work with the Medicare drug program, physicians who receive money from the pharmaceutical industry are more likely to prescribe brand-name drugs than generics.
Every year, the pharmaceutical industry spends millions of dollars on its army of drug peddlers, who visit doctors’ offices to pitch brand-name drugs. The drug representatives also receive payments based on the number of prescriptions signed by doctors they visit.
To market their drugs, pharmaceuticals also invite doctors on junkets disguised as conferences where they market their products.
● Become politically active. Join a grassroots group that is concerned about health issues and costs. Support legislative proposals to control drug costs.
A New York State bill would require drug manufacturers to be more transparent about high-cost medication.
In Washington, Sen. Bernie Sanders is sponsoring legislation that would allow the government to negotiate Medicare drug prices.
Pharmaceuticals succeeded in keeping the option of purchasing cheaper Canadian medications out of the legislation that created the Medicare Part D program established during the administration of President George W. Bush. The federal government could save as much as $541 billion over 10 years by negotiating with pharmaceuticals.
● Use less costly generic drugs instead of brand-name drugs. Approved by the Federal Drug Administration, generics are safe and chemically equivalent to brand-name drugs.
● Search for discounts. Some retail pharmacies offer lower copays than prescription drug plans.The GoodRx website and mobile app offers information about drug prices at local pharmacies. GoodRx also offers discount coupons.
The copay increases at DC 37 go into effect on Jan. 1.
“Being a part of a revolt of consumers is one of the options,” said Audrey Browne, the plan’s associate administrator and counsel. “But we can fight back in other ways too, whether it’s through politics or community activism. Big Pharma makes an easy target because of its excessive prices and unscrupulous marketing practices.”