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Health: Generic Drugs Prices Increasing

By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- On the CBS 3 Health Watch, staying healthy could cost more.

Some generic prescription drugs that are supposed to save you money are getting a lot more expensive, even if you have insurance.

Health Reporter Stephanie Stahl has more on the problem and how you can avoid paying more.

Ron Nadir takes 16 medications every day for a number of health issues.

Gwen Eccleston, who lives in Germantown, also takes several drugs following a recent heart operation.

Gwen and Ron depend on generic prescription drugs because usually they're cheaper than brand name drugs.  But now prices of dozens of generics are skyrocketing.

"We've always been used to three or four percent increases every year but now we're talking about a thousand percent increase, five thousand percent increase, doesn't make sense," said Mel Brodsky, a pharmacist and Executive Director of the Association of Community Pharmacies.  He says it's happening to all kinds of generics.  For example, the antibiotic Erythromycin has gone from $70 for 100 pills to $713, nearly ten times more.  And Digoxin, a drug taken by millions with heart disease, has jumped from $76.80 for 100 pills to $288.

"That's increased in price 350 percent over the last six months," said Brodsky.

"I think most of us are shocked that a pill that's been around for decades would suddenly have an increase in prices, and it's unclear why," said Dr. David Venesey, a cardiologist.

Digoxin is made by several manufacturers including the Lannett Company, based here in Philadelphia.  The company is a major supplier of generic drugs, with soaring revenues.  Its website says, "Net sales were $151 million for fiscal 2013 and $193 million for the first nine months of fiscal 2014."

Lannett declined to comment when we asked why the price of Digoxin had gone up so much.

Sometimes a hike in the price of a generic drug is blamed on problems getting raw materials or the cost of complying with FDA requirements.  But manufacturers don't have to justify increases to anyone.  There are no regulations controlling drug prices.

Experts predict people with private insurance could be facing higher copays for many generic medications, and perhaps even higher premiums.  And many on Medicare may have to pay more out of pocket when they reach a certain dollar limit.

"It's wrong.  It is wrong," said Gwen.  She also says she may be forced to buy less food to pay for her drugs.

"We don't have that kind of money to buy this kind of medicine," said Gwen.

Ron says he may just have to take less medication.

"If I take three doses a day I'll cut down to two, or I'll cut down to one," said Ron.

Doctors say if you are having trouble paying for drugs let them know.  There may be a cheaper alternative available that will work just as well.

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