Prescription Medication: Why Doctors Prescribed What They Do

by Annie on December 11, 2010 · 3 comments

in Healthcare & Health Insurance

In the United States you cannot purchase a prescription medication without a prescription from a doctor. You probably believe your doctor learn about new drugs from reading scientific research from medical journals, from his own experience prescribing medicine to his patients, or from discussions with his colleagues. This is only half the truth.

This post is a discussion of why doctors prescribe the medication they do and how this method actually increases the cost of prescription drugs for everyone.

Medical journals and conferences

The sheer number of new articles in medical journals is overwhelming to a busy doctor with limited time for professional reading. Most articles only receive a cursory glance at best. Therefore, medical journals are not the primary source of prescription medication information for your doctor.

Your doctor might attend medical conferences in order to stay current in her field. However, these conferences are often sponsored by drug manufacturers. And drug manufacturers have an incentive to get your doctor to prescribe the latest and greatest (and most expensive) prescription medicine in the market for your ailment.

Asking for the prescription medication

Asking for medicine by the name brand is the surest way to increase the cost of prescription drugs. The reason why you or I would have heard about the brand name drug is either from advertising on TV or from a friend using the drug. Believe it or not, your doctor wants to make you happy. This is why 69% of all patients who ask their doctor for a specific name brand drug actually get it. And if this specific name brand drug is advertised on TV, then it is the most expensive prescription medication for your medical problem.

Free sample prescription medication

I have a friend whose job is to meet with doctors either in their offices or over lunch to “provide information about their newest drug” and give free samples. She is a drug rep promoting her company’s latest new prescription medication.

Unfortunately, since your doctor is too busy to read all the articles in medical journals, she is susceptible to this kind of advertising from the drug manufacturer. A typical doctor’s sample closet is a mini drugstore with thousands of dollar of expensive name brand drugs (all free of charge from the drug rep).

So when it is time to pull out the prescription pad, you are often given free samples of the expensive name brand drugs and a prescription for more. The lowest cost prescription medication such as generic drugs is rarely given to your doctor as samples. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

What is left out in this advertising, name brand drug promotion, and free samples is the price of the name brand prescription medication. Your doctor doesn’t know what the price is. And neither do you if you only have a fixed co-pay (typically $10-$30) for the prescription medication.

How does the cost of prescription drugs impact you

The insurance companies and HMOs who pay for these expensive prescription medicines do not care about prices either. They just passed the cost to your employer after their own mark-ups. Sometimes health insurance companies and HMOs actually receive rebates from the drug manufacturers for promoting their more expensive prescription drugs. They have no incentive to control the cost of prescription drugs.

So what do employers do? They pay you less to make up the difference and ask you to pay for a higher percentage of the premiums for health insurance. Expensive prescription medication is a lose-lose situation for both you and your employer. The only ones benefiting from the existing system are the insurance companies and the drug manufacturers laughing with your money on the way to the bank.

Until next time and thanks for stopping by Small Steps to Health.

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