Price swings hit generic drugs, shortage of manufacturers blamed

CLEVELAND - Generic drugs often save you a lot of money over name-brand pharmaceuticals. But over the last year or so, prices of some generics have skyrocketed by hundreds or even thousands of percentage points.

People with full health insurance coverage don't notice any difference in their co-pays, but those who have to pay for drugs out-of-pocket are seeing big changes.

Patrick Gunn is getting a headache trying to treat it. His migraine medication costs are skyrocketing.

"Each time I went back it seemed to go higher," he said. "The first time, the out-of-pocket was like $9, the second time I went back it was like $12, then I went back and it had gone up to $40."

It was a similar problem for John Popow. His costs were fluctuating wildly, from $100 a tube for a prescription skin cream, to $5 for the same tube. 

In the last year, several generic medications spiked in price. A popular skin rash medication, nystatin, tripled.  Another anti-inflammatory increased 5,000 percent, from $6.50 to $293.

INTERACTIVE: Click here to see the rise in the cost of prescription drugs over the past five years:

One reason for the skyrocketing prices is fewer generic drug manufacturers.

"There's one or two manufacturers remaining," said Tom Nameth at Discount Drug Mart . "Then their price would thus go up exponentially."

Insured patients may not have noticed the difference, but that doesn't mean you won't pick up the cost.

"Eventually, the price of insurance might go up to either the company or the individual," said Nameth.

WEB EXTRA: Click here to see which discounts are offered at major retailers:

If you need to buy a pricey generic out-of-pocket and can't afford it, talk with your pharmacist. Many will call your doctor and switch you to a cheaper alternative.  Or switch pharmacies. The North Coast Health Ministry in Lakewood helped John Popow find a new one.

"Dr. Tomsik was able to actually look up and see which was the cheapest place for me to go as a patient," he said.

Another option is to contact the pharmaceutical company directly. They may offer 30-day free trials or a small discount on the price for a limited time.

A new survey from Consumer Reports found that an increasing number of people without prescription drug coverage are taking potentially dangerous measures to save money on their health care. Two-thirds said they put off a doctor's visit or declined a medical test because of cost, while others reported cutting pills in half to save money, which lowers the effectiveness of treatment.

INFOGRAPHIC: Click here to see the results of Consumer Reports' survey:

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