Fighting Big Pharma: The financial and personal costs

11 News Investigates conducts a 3-part series into the rising cost of prescription drugs  

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- Thousands across Arkansas struggle every day to purchase their vital prescription drugs.  Many find themselves in insurance gaps, where their coverage either requires sky-high deductibles or unaffordable out-of-pocket costs.  Moreover, the insurance marketplace continues to move more online, leaving many older Arkansans behind.  

With the prescription costs rising, we launched a three-part investigation to explain what so many face every day.  We talked to doctors, congressmen, social workers, and most importantly, we talked to you.  

We wanted to explain how so many Arkansans have gotten to this position, asking the simple question: Why do the costs keep rising?  We then wanted to go beyond the numbers and show the story of real Arkansans struggling to obtain the drugs they need with their  incomes.  Then, we wanted to press our leaders both in the hospital and the legislature on what solution they have for the patients. 

Along the way, you spoke to us.  You sent us your Facebook messages and emails, and you called our news line.  All to just share your story.  We urge you to continue to do so.  You educated us and made our news personal.  This is our home, and we deserve to hear answers and to share stories.


If you missed our three-part investigation, you can catch up below.


The price we pay for rising drug costs

11 News Investigates: Price we pay for rising drug costs

Marielle Mohs spoke with Dr. Dwight Davis, director and researcher at the UAMS College of Pharmacy, and went to the Medicine Man Pharmacy to walk through the process of buying prescription drugs.  Mohs also explains the notion of "average claim cost."


Several patients have seen a significant spike in the cost of their prescription drugs over the last 10 years. It continues to be a national epidemic affecting many people who take routine medicines.

People taking daily doses to treat diabetes, deadly allergic reactions, cancers, or seizures see these increases the most. Their medicines are necessary and purchased consistently throughout the year.  It is clear manufacturers can rely on purchases, but many diseases are becoming incurable after they cannot afford to continue researching a cure anymore.

Many of these inflated drugs are common, including the injectable Humira by the company Abbvie, which treats Crohn's disease.

“Since 2011, Humira had a price increase of 68 percent,” said Dr. Dwight Davis, director and researcher at the University of Arkansas for Medical Science College of Pharmacy.  Davis and his colleagues study price trends of pharmaceutical drugs nationwide.

Another drug that's had a big rise in cost is the allergen injection EpiPen, by the company Mylan.

“We've experienced 139 percent increase,” said Davis.

An example with a similar spike is Xyrem by the company Jazz Pharmaceuticals, which treats narcolepsy.  Its price ticked up 116 percent in just five years.

Scott Pace, the CEO of the Arkansas Pharmacists Board, says prices jump quickly and often.

“We see some manufacturers raising their prices two times a year or even three times a year,” said Pace.

Patients and health care providers all over the country are feeling the hit. The only ones not hurting are the drug companies.

“Internally, we tend to chalk that up to greed,” said Davis.


Read Marielle's full report here.



High costs gives families hard decisions

High costs gives families hard decisions

Winnie Wright spoke to Doyle Berkefeldt, a retired minister from Batesville.  He told the story of his wife's painful and expensive battle with Hep C.  Her medicine costs as much as $1000 pill.


On Tuesday night, we introduced you to the growing problem of rising pharmaceutical drug costs, a national epidemic affecting many people who take routine medicines. In part two of our 11 News Investigates Series, we look at how in some cases the high cost of certain drugs making many families make some really hard decisions.

Doyle Berkefeldt, a retired minister, and his wife Darlene, a pediatrict nurse, lived a happy life in sleepy Batesville, Arkansas. It was a bond that lasted for decades. They were the best of the friends even through the worst of times.

"We had a lot of fun,” said Doyle Berkefeldt. "Whatever we did, we did together."

Doyle would've done anything to help his wife. In January 2015, Darlene died after a short yet exhausting fight with Hepatitis C. The medication his wife may have needed is a drug called Harvoni.

"She had this bleeding ulcer many years earlier, before they even knew there was a Hep C," Doyle recalled. "So she had a blood transfusion, at that time, and they didn't test for Hep C, because they didn't have it. So they don't know if she got it that way.

When Darlene was first diagnosed with Hep C in the spring of 2014, Doyle said doctors didn't offer the drug Harvoni as a possible cure for his wife's condition. The drug had just come out and it was the successor to a drug called Sovaldi. Both are made by Gilead, a US based drug manufacturer.

"They said there's no cure for Hep C. You just live with it," Doyle said.

Doyle, unwilling to part with his beloved wife, began to do research and that's when he found Harvoni online. He said a 90-day supply would have been roughly $100,000. Most families could not afford such a price for one drug. The Berkefeldts were among that group. The high price put them in a tight spot.

"We would have sold the house, all the furnishings in it, all my wife's jewelry, and we couldn't have afforded the medicine," he said.


Read Winnie's full report here.


Looking ahead to heal the problem

Looking ahead to heal the problem

Dawn Scott spoke to both Arkansas Congressman French Hill and St. Vincent social worker, Carla LeMay. They offered solutions and temporary cost fixes for patients in need.


In room 9 at the St. Vincent Infirmary, Dr. Bushra Shah visits with her patient, 61-year-old Dena Fowler. These examination rooms are the heart of American medicine. It was in this type of room where Dena, suffering from migraines, high blood pressure, and diabetes, found out she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The pain doesn't end for Dena at her illnesses because her husband, Johnny, epileptic. Both husband and wife require multiple medications to fight their ailments.

"Insurance doesn't want to pay for his. We've really struggled with that fight," Dena explained. "So, my medicine will get secondary to making sure he gets his first and sometimes I won't get mine because I've gotta get his first."

It is this dire struggle, that Dr. Shah said, that families face the difference between life and death. She said it could limit a physician's ability to effectively treat a patient. Without proper medications, people like Dena can suffer just to see Johnny survive.

That's where someone like Carla LeMay can step in and give patients that extra help. As a hospital social worker, LeMay hears the heartbreaking stories day-in and day-out. She said she's seen patients "bounce back" into the hospital because patients can't afford their medication. No medication means the sickness returns and so too do the patients.

"And they'll say they couldn't afford it," LeMay said. "Why didn't you call? Why didn't you tell us? Why didn't you ask?"

Just by calling the hospital, LeMay said, is the number one way patients can start to save money. The questions run in LeMay's head; Are there other medicines that can do the same thing? Does it have to be this specific medicine?


Read Dawn's full report here.


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