A new poll finds that more than one-fourth of Americans over age 50 experience financial hardship paying for their prescription medications. This suggests an opportunity for health professionals and patients to talk more about drug costs, both in everyday interactions and in formal medication reviews that insurance may cover.
For example, doctors, clinic staff, and pharmacists can help patients identify options from drug companies that might reduce costs by reducing copayments or overall price, and recommend generic equivalents when available. In fact, the poll findings show that when patients do ask for help, many are offered less expensive alternatives.
The data come from the University of Michigan (U-M) National Poll on Healthy Aging, a new initiative based at the U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation and sponsored by AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) and Michigan Medicine, U-M’s academic medical center.
The nationally representative sample included 2,131 people, split almost equally between two age groups: 50 to 64 years and 65 to 80 years. Respondents answered a wide range of questions online; laptops and Internet access were provided to those who needed them.
“We already know that cost can keep patients from taking the drugs they need to maintain health or prevent complications, but these new data suggest that many older adults aren’t talking to their doctors or pharmacists about cost and less-expensive alternatives as often as they could,” said Preeti Malani, M.D., director of the poll and a professor of internal medicine at the U-M Medical School.
“This represents an opportunity for patients, clinicians as well as health systems, insurers, and policymakers.”
Alison Bryant, AARP senior vice president of research, adds that out-of-pocket costs can vary greatly for midlife and older adults depending on their insurance coverage for prescription drugs, and based on the price of the drug set by the manufacturer. High and rising drug costs can result in higher out of pocket costs and more cost burden.
The poll asked a range of prescription drug-related questions of adults between the ages of 50 and 80 to try to understand how prescription-related issues affect those in the pre-Medicare and Medicare age range.
The poll finds that more than half of adults in the 50-64 age range were taking two or more medications and that 14 percent of them were taking six medications or more.
In the older age group, 20 percent of those polled said they took six or more medications. Nearly 90 percent of those in the older group were taking at least one prescription drug, consistent with previous studies. One in four of the older adults reported seeing four or more doctors in the past year.
Overall, 27 percent of respondents said their prescription drug costs posed a financial burden. One in six respondents were taking six or more prescriptions and seeing more than one doctor. These patients were more likely to say their drug costs were a problem.
Among those who said their drug costs were a financial burden, 49 percent hadn’t talked to their doctors about the cost of their drugs. But taking time to talk did pay off for many: 67 percent of those who reported talking to their doctor about cost received a recommendation for a less expensive drug, and 37 percent got similar recommendations from pharmacists.
“Based on these findings, and other evidence, we encourage patients to speak up during their clinic visits, and when they’re at the pharmacy, and ask about ways to reduce the cost of their prescriptions,” said Malani.
“But equally, we see a need for health professionals to find ways to more routinely engage with patients about cost — especially through formal medication reviews such as the one that Medicare will cover.”