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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Generic Drug Price Hikes Do Damage At Montpelier Pharmacy

Bob Kinzel
Rich Harvie, co-owner of the Montpelier Pharmacy, says the price increase for generic drugs -- up to 1,000 percent, in some cases -- are "ridiculous."

In the last few months, the price of many generic drugs has increased dramatically. There are a number of cases where the price jumped more than 1,000 percent overnight.

Rich Harvie is a pharmacist and co-owner of the Montpelier Pharmacy. Harvie says a lot of his customers are in a state of shock these days because the cost of many generic drugs has gone through the roof. Harvie says he's been watching this development over a period of years, but he says the increases over last few months are staggering.  

"This last year has been ridiculous though, the prices have just gone crazy,” said Harvie. “A lot of things have gone up 1,000 percent overnight. It's just amazing."

As an example, Harvie describes a customer who takes a generic drug for his arthritis. The out-of-pocket cost of this prescription increased from $6 a refill to more than $80. Harvie says it's likely that this customer will decide to take his medicine every other day to save money.

"The prices have just gone crazy. A lot of things have gone up 1,000 percent overnight." - Pharmacist Rich Harvie talking about the skyrocketing cost of some generic drugs

"That happened overnight. That's how things are changing, it's awful,” said Harvie. “And that was a life changing event for him because he's on a fixed income. So this is something that was very, very affordable to him. Now it's changing his life."

Harvie says some of the pharmaceutical companies blame the price hikes on a shortage of key components of their drugs. However, he thinks the entire situation is worthy of a major investigation.

"I'm just amazed that every attorney general's office in the country has not gotten together and filed some sort of class action suit about this because it's wrong,” said Harvie. “What they are doing is absolutely wrong."

Senator Bernie Sanders is the chairman of the Senate sub-committee on Primary Health and Aging. He says it's critical for Congress to take a close look at this issue.

"And if that continues, then the benefits of generic drugs, which was a very successful effort to make sure that prescription drugs are affordable for working people - [they] don't have to pay top dollar for the same drugs under a brand name - that benefit will be significantly lost," Sanders said.

"Twenty-five percent of the people who get their prescriptions from their doctors - guess what, they don't fill them." - Sen. Bernie Sanders

Sanders says there's no question that many people will be unable to afford to take their medication on a regular basis.

"Twenty-five percent of the people who get their prescriptions from their doctors - guess what, they don't fill them. Can you think how crazy that is ?” said Sanders. “Doctor examines, this is what's wrong with you, here's what I want you to do, and [the patient] says, 'I can't afford to do it.' That makes no sense at all."

Sanders' committee held a hearing on this issue last week, but representatives of the three major generic drug companies refused to testify. Sanders says the time has now come for the Department of Justice to investigate allegations of price collusion by these companies.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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