Coins and pills on a scaleInsurance plays a big role in whether consumers ask aboutalternative drugs: 39.5 percent of uninsured adults asked aboutlower-cost drugs compared to just 18 percent of those on privateinsurance. (Image: Shutterstock)

|

Many Americans feel they cannot afford the medications prescribed to them, andin recent years about 20 percent have asked their doctors forcheaper alternatives, according to a federal study.

|

New data from the National Center for Health Statistics, part of theCenters for Disease Control, show a significant number of Americansusing different strategies to deal with prescriptions that theyfind difficult to afford. The center noted that about 60 percent ofadult Americans report that they take prescription medications, andthat approximately 70 percent of prescribed medications come without-of-pockets costs, which average around $6 for generic drugs andaround $30 for brand-name drugs.

|

The study looked at three common strategies that consumers useto deal with the cost of prescription drugs: asking their providerfor a lower-cost drug; not taking the medication as prescribed; andusing alternative therapies.

|

Asking for a lower-cost medication

About 20 percent of patients asked their physicians for lower-cost drugs in 2017, the center found.This has held steady in the past three years, and is down from2013, when nearly 26 percent of patients asked about lower-costmedications. The study found that women (22 percent) were morelikely than men (16 percent) to ask for lower-cost drugs. Notsurprisingly, insurance plays a big role: 39.5 percent of uninsuredadults asked about lower-cost drugs; only 18 percent of those onprivate insurance and 16 percent of those with Medicaid coveragedid so.

|

According to Consumer Reports, there are several wayspatients and providers can work together to reduce the cost ofprescribed medications. Obviously switching to generics is oneroute, but providers and clinics may be able to suggest other waysto cut some of the costs of prescriptions.

|

Not taking medications as prescribed

The study also looked at the strategy of not taking medications as prescribed. The mostcommon scenarios here are when patients don't take as much of themedication as prescribed or change the timing of when they take themedication, in order to make the medication last longer.

|

Again, women (13 percent) used this strategy slightly more thanmen (10 percent). Insurance status made a big difference: 33percent of uninsured patients used this strategy, while only 13percent of Medicaid and 8 percent of privately insured patients didnot take medications as prescribed.

|

Health experts say this strategy can be dangerous for patients.“Not taking medications as prescribed can cause serious problems,”wrote Howard LeWine, MD, chief medical editor of Harvard Health Publishing, in a 2015 analysis.“It can lead to unnecessary complications related to a medicalcondition. It can lead to a bad outcome, like a heart attack orstroke. It can also increase medical costs if hospitalization orother medical interventions are needed.”

|

Using alternative therapies

Some patients forgo the medication route and try alternativetherapies, the study found. The number of patients taking thisapproach has been relatively low: well under 10 percent in recentyears, according to the center. Just over 5 percent of patientsreported trying alternative therapies in the 2017 data. Women (7percent) reported trying this strategy more than men (4 percent).Uninsured patients went with alternative therapies 14 percent ofthe time; Medicaid patients were at 6 percent; and 4 percent ofthose with private insurance used alternative therapies.

|

The study was designed to measure the use of these strategies,not their effectiveness, but the authors noted that there are risksto not taking medications as prescribed by providers: “Cost-savingstrategies to reduce prescription drug costs may have implicationsfor health status and have been associated with increased emergencyroom use and hospitalizations, compared with adults who followrecommended pharmacotherapy,” they wrote.

|

Read more: 

Complete your profile to continue reading and get FREE access to BenefitsPRO, part of your ALM digital membership.

  • Critical BenefitsPRO information including cutting edge post-reform success strategies, access to educational webcasts and videos, resources from industry leaders, and informative Newsletters.
  • Exclusive discounts on ALM, BenefitsPRO magazine and BenefitsPRO.com events
  • Access to other award-winning ALM websites including ThinkAdvisor.com and Law.com
NOT FOR REPRINT

© 2024 ALM Global, LLC, All Rights Reserved. Request academic re-use from www.copyright.com. All other uses, submit a request to [email protected]. For more information visit Asset & Logo Licensing.