November 2004 
Volume 03, Issue 7 
Special Features

Prescriptions: a double-edged sword

Benefits grow—but so does cost

Thanks to the continuing development of—and new uses for—prescription drugs, people are able to live longer, manage illnesses better and sometimes avoid invasive medical treatments or hospitalizations. That's the good news.

The bad news? The cost of drugs in the United States continues to rise. The Centers of Medicare and Medicaid estimate that by the year 2014, spending on prescription drugs will account for 14.5 percent of U.S. national health care expenditures. That's up from 9.9 percent in 2000.

Prescriptions: a double-edged sword

More about prescriptions

For more information about prescription drugs, log on to This Boeing- Mayo Clinic Web site provides a wealth of information on prescriptions and a variety of other health-related topics.

This issue affects everyone, including Boeing. At Boeing, the cost of prescriptions for employees in 2003 was more than $505 million—a rise of $45 million from 2002.

"The company and employees need to work together to address rising drug costs. You can help slow the growth of future cost increases by asking about alternatives," said Pam French, director of Global Employee Benefits (see story below).

Working with plans and providers

"The company's philosophy is that our health plans should cover those medications that are medically necessary and effective for our people as determined by the medical experts," French said. "However, national data shows that some doctors are not following the latest clinical guidelines on the type, amount or duration of prescriptions, or talking with their patients about different drug choices, including generics."

In response, Boeing is working with its health plans to improve the way the plans interact with doctors and pharmacists. How our health plans manage the delivery of prescriptions drugs may result in more appropriate and cost-effective care for Boeing people. For example, in certain situations, an over-the-counter medication might be the first place to begin treatment before trying more expensive alternatives.

The health plans also can help monitor whether doctors are following the right steps for appropriate, cost-effective treatment.

The power of asking questions

You and your family have an important voice in what your doctor prescribes for your medical treatment. In addition to asking about potential side effects, possible interactions with other medicines or foods, and proper use, you should also ask:

Is there a generic (non-brand name) version of this drug available?
Typically, generic alternatives are the least expensive form of drug. They usually cost 30 to 70 percent less because the patent has expired and they are available from multiple sources. When generic drugs are manufactured by more than one company, competition tends to keep costs lower. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is responsible for ensuring that generics are safe and effective. Check with your doctor or pharmacist regarding your generic drug options.

Is this drug on my medical plan's formulary?
A formulary is the medical plan's list of preferred drugs based on safety, effectiveness and cost standards. As new drugs and clinical studies are released, the formulary is updated. You can find out which prescription drugs are on your plan's formulary by visiting the plan's web site or calling the plan's customer-service number (often listed on your medical plan ID card). Additional information is available on the "Your Benefits Resources" Web site, which is accessible via TotalAccess on the Boeing Intranet. (Many health plans also cover "nonformulary" drugs, but at a higher out-of-pocket cost.)

Is there a more efficient dose for me?
Sometimes there may be a more convenient treatment option that will be just as effective and cost less. For example, one of Boeing's top 25 drugs by cost is Nexium—the "purple pill" that treats acid reflux disease, also known as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). In many cases, a prescription for two 20-milligram doses per day may be replaced with a prescription for one 40-milligram dose per day—saving almost $300 for a 90-day supply and reducing the number of pills you have to take each day. Whenever you need a prescription, ask your doctor about your dose options.

Can this be filled through a prescription-by-mail service?
Going to a retail pharmacy is fine for single-event or occasional prescriptions. But if you need to take the same medication regularly, a mail service program can help save time and money. By using your medical plan's prescription-by-mail service, you can usually get up to a 90-day supply of long-term or "maintenance" medications for much less than at the corner drug store.


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