Now it's being reported that the price of an antibiotic commonly used to treat acne, bronchitis, gonorrhea and many other ailments shot up from $7 to $140 per prescription over a two-year period, an increase of 1,854 percent.
According to an analysis of commercial claims data published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, that price increase occurred between 2011 and 2013 and there was no clear reason, according to the study authors led by John S. Barbieri, MD, MBA, of the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Philadelphia.
"This dramatic increase in the cost of doxycycline hyclate is not easily explained using the framework of a competitive market, suggesting non-competitive market forces may be responsible," the authors wrote in their report.
They said "recent inquiries" by the Department of Justice and others into companies involved in manufacturing doxycycline hyclate suggest that "potentially anti-competitive behavior may be responsible for this dramatic price increase."
What does "anticompetitive behavior" mean? Was it simply greed?
Their study also showed that doctors and pharmacies did little to substitute lower cost drugs considered to be just as effective, resulting in patients paying more than necessary out of their own pocket. That, the authors said, increased the financial burden of healthcare, potentially threatening access to care -- meaning that for some who just couldn't afford the drugs, they simply went untreated.
The mean out-of-pocket cost for doxycycline hyclate increased 102% to $9.69, and the number of patients with total out-of-pocket expenses of at least $50 increased 50-fold, from 0.1% to 6.8%, according to their analysis. Meanwhile,other oral tetracycline class antibiotics did not increase in price to such an extent, as the mean cost of prescriptions for doxycycline monohydrate and minocycline increased 8% and 2%, respectively.
Had doctors been the least bit concerned about cost of these drugs to their patients and switched them to less expensive prescriptions, they could have saved $105.13 per prescription in 2013, according to the study. Thus, patients' out-of-pocket costs would have decreased by $5.77 for each prescription.
Overall, that would have saved $10.7 million for the entire population that year, and would have saved $761,000 in patient out-of-pocket costs. And, since the claims data only represents a fraction of the United States population, the financial impact of choosing the least costly antibiotic instead of doxycycline hyclate could be even higher.
Here's a link to current prices, which appear to remain high since the study.