Recently Alvin responded to our request for stories about consumer struggles with healthcare costs. Though he considers himself relatively healthy, in his early 70s, he does have chronic conditions that commonly accompany aging.

Alvin takes five pills daily to control his high blood pressure, heart rate, gout, and high cholesterol. He predicts that he will spend close to $4000 on medication this year alone – even with Medicare coverage. In mid-April he wrote to us, saying “I’m already in the donut hole. I was told I would have to spend an additional $3100 before I went into the catastrophic phase” when Medicare coverage picks back up for his prescriptions.

Fortunately for seniors like Alvin, the dreaded donut hole gap in Medicare coverage is soon coming to an end, but in his story he raises a bigger point about consumer struggles with the cost of prescriptions. “If the drug companies would not spend billions of dollars on advertising, pushing their products to the public, prices could be reduced,” he says.

We looked into Alvin’s claim and found this useful chart from the Pew Charitable Trust who estimates that in 2012, the pharmaceutical industry spent more than $27 billion on drug promotion, with more than $24 billion on marketing to physicians and more than $3 billion on advertising directly to consumers.

Pharma Marketing Expenditures 2012

Source: Cegedim Strategic Data, 2012 U.S. Pharmaceutical Company Promotion Spending (2013).

Recent evidence shows that even generic drug prices are skyrocketing and nearly half of all Americans are taking one or more medication. Consumers have billions at stake in any discussion over the cost of prescription drugs and have a right to ask tough questions about how pharmaceutical companies are doing business.

Alvin knows the importance of his medications. “They are very effective,” he says of his meds, “but ultra expensive.” He and his wife take their prescriptions every day, as prescribed. But if they found themselves unable to pay, Alvin doesn’t know what they would do.

Are you frustrated by the high cost of prescription drugs? Tell us your story.