The relentless rise in prescription drug prices is prompting pharmacists to become more proactive in helping patients save money. Community pharmacists have had a front row seat for the tsunami of prescription price hikes that has been building for decades.
But recent changes have increased awareness and frustration among patients. “What has really caused it to bubble up above the surface are the high deductible plans, and also the changes in insurance plan designs [that] are shifting more of the cost burden to consumers,” says B. Douglas Hoey, RPh, MBA, CEO of the NCPA. “Now, finally, the unveiling is taking place, and consumers are shocked.”
Statistics released in mid-April offer some perspective. National health spending in the United States hit a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $3.6 trillion in February 2018, according to the nonprofit healthcare research and consulting organization Altarum. Expenditures for prescription drugs totaled $354 billion—approximately 10% of the healthcare total—and represented an annual growth rate of 4.2%.
Customer Relations Take a Hit
Naturally, pharmacies are bearing the brunt of patient frustrations with high costs. The J.D. Power 2017 U.S. Pharmacy Study reports “notable declines” in overall customer satisfaction that are driven by cost.
On a 1,000-point scale, brick-and-mortar pharmacies fell 27 index points to 789 from 2016, while the in-store experience dropped 14 points to 851.
“Pharmacies have historically earned very high marks for customer satisfaction, so any significant year-over-year decline is cause for closer investigation,” says Rick Johnson, director of the Healthcare Practice at J.D. Power. “Consumer concerns about rising drug prices have likely affected perceptions of the cost for their retail prescriptions. The decrease in satisfaction with cost is the primary drag on overall customer satisfaction, creating a serious challenge for retailers.”
Brian Caswell, RPh, of Wolkar Drugs in Baxter Springs, KS, says price is a top concern for customers at his chain of stores in the southeast corner of the state. Many of them are struggling with escalating copays, lack of insurance, and tremendous increases in the cost of generics, specialty drugs, and biologics.
When they voice frustrations over high costs, Caswell says having frank conversations helps them see him as a partner, rather than the enemy.
“Most patients understand, and they tell me that they know we’re not getting rich quick,” he explains. “I’ve even sat down and showed them our invoice prices and what the insurance pays. What’s funny is that the conversation goes from, ‘I can’t believe that the prices are this high!’ and, ‘How much are you making?’ to, ‘How can you survive?’”