The number of Americans not taking medication due to high drug prices – a public health crisis – has increased dramatically over the past decade. Last year, drug prices deterred 50 million Americans ages 19-64 from filling a prescription, a 28% increase since 2003 and 4% increase since 2010, according to the Commonwealth Fund’s 2012 Biennial Health Insurance Survey. The survey measures gaps in medical care due to cost, such as forgone doctors’ visits, medical tests, specialist care, and prescription medications. The prescription-use data for 2012 was derived from answers to the following question: In the last 12 months, was there any time when you did not fill a prescription for medicine because of the cost? This fifty million – a staggering figure – does not even include seniors or children who also did not fill a prescription due to cost.
Not surprisingly, the problems for the uninsured are much greater, especially for those with chronic conditions. Sixty percent of uninsured Americans with a chronic condition skipped taking medication in 2012 due to cost, compared to 14% of insured Americans. Overall, the figure was 28%; that’s 18 million out of sixty-six million adults with hypertension or high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, emphysema, lung disease, or heart disease who reported skipping medication.
As far as seniors skipping meds goes, a recent Walgreens survey may have some answers. It found that 37% of Medicare enrollees are concerned about their drug costs and 20% delay filling prescriptions or skip doses to manage costs. That’s almost an additional eight million (using U.S. Census data for 2011) Americans not adhering to prescriptions due to high drug prices. Walgreens attributes such dismal numbers to the fact that people are unaware of cost-saving alternatives, such as the fact that co-pays vary among pharmacies and limited knowledge of how Part D prescription plans work.
Other reasons seniors skip medication are because their Part D plans do not cover brand name medications prescribed by their doctors and the “donut hole,” a coverage gap in Medicare drug plans that has fortunately begun to close due to Obamacare .
We’re happy to note that the Commonwealth Fund’s report shows that more insured Americans under Obamacare in the years to come could alleviate medical cost problems for millions of Americans. We’ll explore in a future blog post new data on how Americans are addressing the problem of high drug prices.