In addition to anxiety and stress, the toll today’s troubling economy is taking on individual health can be seen in the cutbacks people are making in obtaining health care and prescription drugs. Many people are foregoing medical visits and services, choosing not to fill prescriptions, and dosing filled prescriptions in ways to make them last longer.
Several recent surveys document this worrisome trend:
- A survey of consumers by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners found that 22% have reduced the number of times they see a doctor as a result of the economy, and 11% have cut back on the number of prescription drugs they take or have adjusted the dosage of their medications to make a prescription last longer.
- The Kaiser Family Foundation’s first tracking poll for 2009 found that more than half (53%) of Americans say their household has cut back on health care in the past 12 months, due to cost concerns. Steps taken include relying on home remedies and over-the-counter drugs rather than visiting a doctor (35%), delaying seeking needed health care services (27%), skipping a recommended medical test or treatment (23%), not filling a prescription (21%), and cutting pills in half or skipping doses to make a prescription last longer (15%).
- A survey from Consumer Reports found that nearly 70% of respondents had taken steps to “afford” their prescription drugs over the past year, and 28% did so in a way that had potentially harmful health effects. These measures included failing to fill a prescription (16%), skipping a dose (16%), taking an expired medication (11%), cutting pills in half (10%), and sharing a prescription (4%). Individuals under the age of 65 without prescription drug coverage were most likely to engage in such risky behavior in an attempt to control their costs.
That consumers have cut back on prescription drug spending is reflected in data from IMS Health, which reports that prescription drug sales in the United States grew only 1.3% in 2008. This is down from the 3.8% sales growth seen in 2007, a figure that was considered low at the time — the lowest growth rate since 1961 — and down from a rate of 8% in 2006.
Although everyone is concerned about getting health care and prescription drug spending under control, no one wants to do that in ways that endanger individual health or lead to the worsening of a chronic condition, requiring added intervention and spending down the road. When it comes to prescription drugs, consumers can stretch their health care dollars by using generics. However, according to Consumer Reports, nearly half of consumers harbor reservations about generics: 27% say generics have different side effects than their name brand counterparts, 22% believe they aren’t as effective, 18% believe they don’t meet the same federal standards, and 16% say they just aren’t safe. These misconceptions must be recognized, battled and corrected if generics are to achieve their potential in aiding prescription drug cost control in a safe and appropriate way.