Some US Residents Cut Back On Prescription Drugs To Save Money

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

The New York Times on Wednesday examined how, as "people around the country respond to financial and economic hard times by juggling the cost of necessities like groceries and housing, drugs are sometimes having to wait." An analysis conducted recently by IMS Health found that U.S. prescription drug sales in the first eight months of 2008 failed to increase for the first time in more than 10 years. In addition, Pfizer, the largest pharmaceutical company worldwide by sales, on Tuesday said that third-quarter U.S. sales decreased by 13% from a year earlier.

According to the Times, "many doctors and other experts say consumer belt-tightening is a big factor in the prescription downturn," and the trend "could have potentially profound implications." James King, chair of the American Academy of Family Physicians, said, "People are having to choose between gas, meals and medication." Timothy Anderson, a pharmaceutical industry analyst with Sanford Bernstein, said that the decrease in sales of prescription drugs is "most likely tied to a worsening economic environment."

In addition to the economic downturn, increased out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs might have contributed to the decrease in prescription drug sales. An annual employer survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust found that average copayments for prescription drugs on "preferred" lists established by health insurers increased to $25 in 2007 from $15 in 2000. The Medicare prescription drug benefit "doughnut hole," in which beneficiaries must cover the full cost of their treatments, also might have contributed to the decrease in prescription drug sales, as studies have found that many beneficiaries end treatment with medications when they reach the coverage gap.

The decrease in prescription drug sales also might have resulted from "adverse publicity about some big-selling medications" -- such as the cholesterol medications Zetia, marketed by Merck, and Vytorin, marketed by a joint venture of Merck and Schering-Plough -- and the shift of the allergy medication Zyrtec, marketed by Johnson & Johnson, to over-the-counter status, the Times reports (Saul, New York Times, 10/22).



In related news, CBS News reports on a new survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation showing growing numbers of Americans reporting problems paying medical bills. According to the survey, 36% of residents have delayed medical care in the past year because of cost, 31% have skipped a test or treatment and 27% have decided not to fill a prescription. About one-third of residents said that they had problems with payment of medical bills, compared with one-fourth in 2006, and almost half said that a family member has delayed or cut back on needed care due to cost, according to the survey.

Sherry Glied, a health economist at Columbia University, said, "When people cut back on preventive care they're really cutting back on their own lives and health and the quality of their lives in the long run" (LaPook, "Evening News," CBS, 10/21).

The October Kaiser Health Tracking Poll: Election 2008, the eleventh and final in a series designed and analyzed by the Foundation's public opinion research team, also examines voters' specific health care issue interests and perceptions of the major presidential candidates' positions on health care and reform. Full results are available online.

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