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10% of Medicare Elderly Skip Medication Because of Cost


It’s a sad fact that some elderly people on Medicare skip taking their medications because they cost too much, or they cut back on basic needs such as food to offset the cost of their drugs. These findings from a new study published in the Journal of Cancer Survivorship show that these practices are true for both cancer survivors and those without cancer.

Food or medicine—sometimes the elderly have to choose

The new study results were based on data from the 2005 Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey and Medicare claims. The investigators from Harvard Medical School compared self-reported the practice of reducing spending on basic needs to afford medications, self-reported cost-related medication nonadherence (CRN), and strategies elderly Medicare recipients, with or without cancer, use to reduce costs.

A total of 9,818 elderly Medicare enrollees from across the country were included in the analysis, and of these, 1,392 (14%) were cancer survivors. Overall, 10 percent of cancer survivors and 11 percent of those without cancer reported CRN, while 6 percent of those with cancer and 9 percent of those without, respectively, said they spend less on basic needs to help offset the cost of their medications.

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In an earlier study conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs, investigators compared the prevalence of CRN and spending less on basic needs to afford medications among 24,234 community-dwelling Medicare recipients before (2004 and 2005) and after (2005 and 2006) Part D. One goal of Part D was to improve medication compliance.

They found that CRN among participants with depressive symptoms averaged 26 percent over a three-year period compared with 11 percent among participants without depressive symptoms. They also learned that an average of 21 percent of percent of beneficiaries with depressive symptoms were spending less money on basic needs to pay for their medications, compared with 7 percent of those without depressive symptoms. Overall, the authors reported that Medicare Part D did not improve medication adherence among mentally ill beneficiaries.

Researchers with the Harvard Medical School study discovered that a significant number of Medicare beneficiaries commonly skip taking their medication, reduce their dose, or don’t fill a prescription because it is too expensive. This lack of adherence to a prescribed medication schedule is similar among beneficiaries with or without cancer, as is the practice of cutting back on basic needs to help pay for medications. Their findings led the authors to conclude that elderly cancer survivors do not have greater medical costs than other patients.

Nakhlyudov L et al. Journal of Cancer Survivorship 2011; doi: 10.1007/s11764-011-0188-4
Zivin K et al. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 2009 Dec; 17(12): 1068-76

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