Average Americans Show Compassion for their Fellow Citizens Who Can’t Afford Medication – What About Our Elected Officials?

Two years ago, ABC News ran a segment (What Would You Do?) that showed Americans going out of their way to help strangers who could not afford their medication. Actors visited local pharmacies pretending they could not afford to pay for their much-needed prescription drugs – something that happens frequently in the U.S. Some people offered to help pay for part or all of the drug orders, and one man even left the pharmacy to get money from an ATM. In addition to financial assistance, these individuals also offered words of solidarity against the outrageous costs. Karen Wenberg (real person) told the woman (actress) she was helping: “Don’t be embarrassed. You know what? Medication is so f***ing expensive. There is no reason to be embarrassed… Sometimes we just pass on the good that’s been given to us.”

As we write this, Congress is marking up a new law, Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), one supported by the Obama administration that could effectively block Americans from acquiring safe and affordable medication from online pharmacies outside the U.S. As the government seeks to rein in spending, why do they want to stop consumers from getting non-tax-payer funded, affordable medication? When people go without medication, they can become sick or get sicker, putting a great burden on the health care system. To see what the government is doing, read RxRight.org’s guest post on techdirt. (more…)

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In Medicare “Doughnut Hole” 3.4 Million Stop Taking Their Medication

New research shows that the Medicare drug plan “doughnut hole” seriously endangers not only the pocketbook, but also the health of our nation’s seniors and other Medicare enrollees. Two separate studies released this month show that patients who reach the coverage gap are more likely to stop taking their medication than they are to switch to a cheaper drug: the Public Library of Science published Changes in Drug Utilization During a Gap in Insurance Coverage: An Examination of the Medicare Part D Coverage Gap, and the Kaiser Family Foundation Program on Medicare Policy published Understanding the Effects of the Medicare Part D Coverage Gap in 2008 and 2009.

The putative reason for the coverage gap is that the threshold will teach consumers to be aware of drug costs. Jennifer Polinski, ScD, MPH, the author of PLoS study says, “there is an expectation that people will seek less expensive drug options when they enter the donut hole.” However, these studies reveal that this is clearly not the case. Research from 2006 and 2007 shows that beneficiaries were 40% less likely to switch a drug if they did not receive financial assistance, as opposed to those beneficiaries who did. Likewise, the Kaiser study reveals that about 3.4 million, or 12%, of Part D enrollees who reached the gap in 2008 and 2009 discontinued their medication. (more…)

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We don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but more reports keep coming out informing us, and hopefully our elected officials, too, that people are not taking their medication due to cost. Most recently it is the Mayo Clinic.

Based on a study of 209 patients prescribed heart medications, researchers found that among patients who did a poor job following prescriptions, financial concern was the main reason: 46 percent reported that they had stopped taking statins or not filled a prescription because of cost, and 23 percent acknowledged skipping doses to save money.

If there was ever ambiguity about whether high drug prices are a major threat to the public health, there is no longer. Data gathered by the U.S. Center for Disease Control, the National Consumer’s League, and Harvard School of Public Health, and, now, from the Mayo Clinic proves the point. We’ve dedicated time and effort in finding solutions to this health emergency. Our Consumer Guide can help Americans alleviate this burden and our advocacy initiative provides them with a platform to speak up to their elected officials.

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Drug Price S.O.S Revisited: 25 Million Americans Skip Taking Needed Medication Due to Cost

Just over one year ago we launched this blog with a post called Drug Price S.O.S. – 120 Million Americans Struggle to Afford Medicine. That number came from a 2008 Harvard School of Public Health study showing that 4 in 10 Americans have trouble affording their prescription drugs. Sadly, the situation has gotten worse.

As reported on MSNBC.com and Reuters, new information released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics shows a dramatic increase in the number of American adults who are unable to afford healthcare.  From 1997 to 2009 the precentage of Americans  not taking their medications due to cost nearly doubled from - increasing  from 4.8 to 8.4%.  The earlier Harvard study mentioned above shows 40 percent of Americans struggling with costs; that could mean pill splitting, skipping doses, taking alternatives, or simply going without needed medication.  The recent government statistics are clear about how many Americans don’t take their medication due to cost: 25 million! [8.4% of 300 million (the U.S. population) = 25 million]. (more…)

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$250 Medicare Drug Rebate Checks, A Small Start

It has reached mid-June and the first of an estimated 4 million health reform rebate checks will be sent out this week. These checks will go to Medicare enrollees who have already reached the Medicare drug plan coverage gap, known as the “doughnut hole,” and subsequent checks will be mailed out 45 days after other Medicare enrollees hit the hole. According to Medicare.gov, eligible recipients who reach the “doughnut hole” this year will receive this one-time rebate check to offer some immediate relief.

Our previous post noted that compared to the $3,610 gap, $250 doesn’t seem like a lot of money. In fact it is only one-fourteenth of the total cost seniors will have to pay to get out of that hole and back into government subsidized prescription drug territory. This realization is discouraging in itself, but added to the fact that drug companies are boosting their prices higher than ever, seniors are faced with diluted savings that make little to no impact on their financial access to necessary prescription drugs.

The $250 check some seniors will receive this week, and others throughout the year, is welcome relief, but until pharmaceutical manufacturer’s stop taking advantage of consumers in need by jacking drug prices, prescription abandonment, prescription non-adherence, and unavoidable debt, will undoubtedly continue to grow.

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DRUG PRICE S.O.S – March 2010 Update – Even the Insured Are Not Taking Their Medication

Last month we reported on the national crisis of high prescription drug prices, showing that at the beginning of the recession 40% of Americans were struggling to afford their prescription drug prices (Harvard School of Public Health). Sadly, new data further highlights this national emergency and shows that the problem is getting worse. Focusing on Americans with insurance, a report by Wolter Kluwer Pharma Solutions found that 14.4% of new prescriptions were not filled in 2009, an increase of 5.5% over 2008. The study attributed the increase to rising co-payments. In fact, 24% more prescriptions were simply abandoned in 2009 than 2008. Prescription abandonment is when a patient does not pick up his or her prescription at the pharmacy. The problem is more acute with brand name drugs than generics.

To stop the increasing tide of Americans skipping their medications due to cost, it is more urgent than ever that increase access to safe and affordable medication.  In the short term, healthcare reform will provide limited drug price relief but will not significantly help struggling Americans any time soon.  However, low-cost online pharmacies and personal drug importation can play an important role in making sure Americans are taking the medicines they need right now. Canadian and other international online pharmacies, for example, offer drug savings of about 70% on brand name drugs. Legalizing personal drug importation and educating consumers about how to safely order prescription drugs from such pharmacies is the right prescription.

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