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The Effect of Rising Medication Costs

The Cost Of Prescription Medications Is Major Financial Burden To Many Americans.

Survey Shows Skipping Doses And Taking Expired Pills Are Among Patients' Cost-Cutting Tactics. Many Doctors Are Seeking More Affordable Solutions For Their Patients.

As the economy lags, growing numbers of people may be cutting corners with prescription medications and not telling their doctors about it. Patients often negotiate the choice between groceries and bills or filling prescription medications.

According to a new poll of 2,038 adults by Consumer Reports, many are putting off doctor's visits, necessary medical procedures, and tests. In addition, many people do not fill their prescriptions, take expired pills, skip doses, or split pills -- all to lower costs.

"The economy is taking its toll on consumers' health, not just their pocketbooks, They are cost cutting and in dangerous ways, especially with prescription medications," says Lisa Gill, the editor of prescription drugs for Consumer Reports.

Another survey by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) reports that one out of every 10 respondents say that they or a family member has been sick or has had an illness worsen because they were unable to afford to fill their prescriptions. Nearly three-fourths of American households (72.8 percent) have at least one member currently taking a prescription medication, and almost half of all household members were taking three or more prescription drugs. The average number of medications being taken in homes with senior citizens (65 years and older) is 5.7.

Furthermore, American households are spending an average of $103.50 a month out-of-pocket for prescription medications, and over 10 million households are spending $200 or more. Nearly one out of four surveyed (representing 68 million Americans) report that their health insurance doesn’t include prescription drug coverage (13 percent) or that they don’t have health insurance at all (11.1 percent).

Doctors see this phenomenon daily, as they continue to discuss with patients the consequences of cutting back on drugs or cutting pills in half. Jill Martin, PharmD, associate professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Pharmacy and president of the ASHP, concurs.

“Skipping doses, taking less than the prescribed amount of a medication or skipping medications altogether means that patients are, at best, not getting desired results from their medicines and, at worst, threatening their lives.”

How to Protect Your Health Care in a Rough Economy

So what are people doing to save a buck? Patients are doing many of these things to save money because they are struggling with medical costs. According to the survey:

  • 16% said they hadn't filled a prescription.
  • 13% reported taking an expired drug.
  • 12% skipped a dose without first running it by their doctor.
  • 8% split pills without direction from their doctor or pharmacist.
  • 4% shared a prescription with someone else.

Patients should take their medications as prescribed because:

  • You will not get the full benefit of a medication if you skip a dose. Some medications, such as antibiotics and statins (for blood cholesterol), may not successfully treat your condition if not taken as prescribed.
  • If your physician is unaware that you are skipping doses, or taking less than the prescribed amount of medication, they may think the medication is not working for you and prescribe an additional medication. This can actually add to the cost of your prescriptions, and the drugs may interact.

What You Can Do To Save At the Pharmacy

  • Remember that your pharmacist is a member of your health-care team. If you can’t afford the medication prescribed to you, ask if there is a generic available. Never be shy or embarrassed to ask this question.
  • Misconceptions included believing that generics were not as good as the brand-name drug. Generic drugs are identical in chemical structure to their brand-name counterparts. They cost less and work as well as the brand-name drug. In most states, pharmacists must substitute generic drugs for brand-name drugs unless the prescribing doctor tells them to do otherwise.
  • Also, doctors can find out the costs of medications in advance. Cost should be a consideration when prescribing medications, especially those that must be taken for the long run.
  • Depending on your insurance, a drug prescribed for you may be covered as a formulary or non-formulary. Non-formulary prescriptions cost more and there may be a medication in the same family of drugs that is formulary and more affordable. Also, some insurance plans will not cover non-formulary prescriptions at all. Your pharmacist can work with your physician to determine if there’s a formulary or generic drug in the same family of drugs prescribed to you that may be more cost effective.
  • Some pills can be safely split. Ask your physician or pharmacist if the medication you have been prescribed can be split. If it can, your physician can prescribe twice the dose needed and you can cut the pill in half with a pill splitter. Getting double the medication in one prescription saves money, but the patient must clearly understand to take “half” the pill, have manual dexterity and good eyesight to manage this approach.
  • Talk to your physician or pharmacist about medication assistance programs for which you may qualify.

What Not To Do To Save At The Pharmacy.

  • Don’t skip medications, cut your dosage in half or stop taking them altogether.
  • Don’t buy medications from foreign countries over the Internet. Other countries do not have the safeguards in place that the United States does to prevent counterfeit medications. Also, some drugs in other countries have the same or similar name as products in the United States but contain very different active ingredients.
  • If you do order medications over the Internet, buy them only from pharmacy Web sites that have the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy VIPPS (verified pharmacy practice sites) symbol.
Article Reviewed: January 1, 2016
Copyright © 2015 Healthy Magazine

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