Control of Medical Costs

I’m sitting in my living room on a rainy Sunday preparing my weekly newsletter. I’ve been under the weather myself for a few days since I’ve had a viral illness. Fortunately, I’m reasonably healthy and resilient; a full recovery seems around the corner.

Friday I was started on oseltamivir phosphate (trade name Tamiflu) to fight the virus. My wife is also sick, so she was given a prescription for the same medication. We’ve got reasonable insurance, but the bill for Natalie’s medication was $106.99. As I waited for the pharmacist to dispense the medication, I reflected on the fact that $106.99 is a lot of money for many citizens in Tennessee’s First Congressional District. What if the family income was a single minimum wage job? At $7.50 per hour, it would have taken over 14 hours of work to earn enough to pay for the prescription. Almost two days of work! Not only is this is a problem nationally (see, but locally many of our neighbors couldn’t afford this drug. This is not only a problem with flu medication. I recently heard the story of a diabetic person in our community who decided to go without insulin because her child needed new clothes and she didn’t have enough money for both.

Medication costs are something we are just going to have to get under control if we are going to curtail the explosive costs of healthcare in the United States. We frequently pay five or 10 times as much for a medication as it costs in other countries. The pharmaceutical industry (sometimes known as Big Pharma) says that the higher costs are necessary to support research. Don’t Canadians and Swedes and Belgians have the same responsibility to support research?

Congress can improve this problem as soon as it wants to do so. Yes, we must maintain drug safety, but once that is verified, a pharmacy in Johnson City or Mountain City or Erwin or Newport or Kingsport or Bristol or Elizabethton or Morristown or Sevierville or Sneedeville or Rogersville or anywhere else in the Tennessee First Congressional District should be able to order the medications from an international supplier, thereby cutting costs for both patients and insurance companies.