Health and Science

More Americans cut spending to pay for prescription drugs

You're gonna need a bigger wallet, or a tighter belt.

One-third of Americans who regularly take prescription medication are seeing price hikes this year—$40 extra for an order of those drugs, on average—and are reacting by cutting back on going to the movies, eating out or buying groceries.

A smaller fraction, one in 10 prescription users, are paying a stunning extra $100 per order in out-of-pocket costs for their medication, according to a new Consumer Reports poll. The price hikes have prompted some to cut corners with how they use their drugs, which in turn can negatively affect their health.

"For whatever reason, raw material shortage or some other problem, literally overnight, we'll see a dramatic increase," Chris Roberts, operations manager for Liberty Pharmacy in Austin, Texas, told Consumer Reports.

The poll's results underscore the fact that even as health insurance coverage has significantly expanded under Obamacare, and as overall health spending has increased only moderately in recent years, price increases for prescription medication and customers' out-of-pocket responsibility for those drugs has become a bigger problem for many people.

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"Every week I see patients who can't afford their drugs," Dr. Joel Zonszein, an endocrinologist at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, told Kaiser Health News in a separate report Tuesday about rising costs of diabetes drugs. The article noted that spending per person on drugs for diabetes, which afflicts an estimated 29 million people, has been higher than other classes of drugs for the past four years.

Earlier this year, the prescription drug analytics company Truveris said that prices for all kinds of prescription drugs—brand-name, generic and specialty drugs—rose by a combined rate of 10.9 percent in 2014.

Brand-name prescription medication alone rose by nearly 15 percent, and the prices of generic drugs, which are often used by cost-conscious customers, grew by almost 5 percent, according to the Truveris National Drug Index.

"Drug costs across all categories are becoming an escalating concern for patients, employers, insurers and lawmakers," said Bryan Birch, chairman, president and CEO of Truveris, at the time. "We expect this price inflation to continue to put pressure on American households and employers in 2015."

Truveris this month introduced a free mobile app, OneRx, that allows consumers to review drug prices and their benefits data, as well as to compare co-pay amounts and amass coupons that can decrease the costs of prescription medication.

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Consumer Reports, in a summary of its poll of 1,000 adults who take prescription drugs, noted that medications that treat common conditions including asthma and high blood pressure were at the top of a list of drugs whose prices have risen in recent years.

People who had seen the prices of their medications rise in the past year were more apt to use the various strategies to cope with the higher prices than people who had no changes in their drug prices. Forty percent of such adults said they had "spent less on entertainment and dining out" in order to pay for their medications.

A slightly smaller number, 37 percent, had asked their doctor or druggist for a less pricy generic version of their prescription drug. But 32 percent said they had cut back on spending for their household groceries.

The strategies aren't just limited to spending.

Consumer Reports found that 24 percent of people who had seen higher drug prices in the past 12 months had skipped filling a prescription because of the cost. Another 18 percent skipped a scheduled dose, and nearly the same percentage used medication that was past its expiration date, or cut their pills in half.