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University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center
Publish Date: 01/24/06
Media Contact: AHC Public Relations, (513) 558-4553
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UC HEALTH LINE: What You Can Do About Rising Medication Costs

The rising cost of prescription medications is leading American families to engage in risky behaviors, including skipping medication doses, taking less than the prescribed dose of medication or deciding to stop taking prescription medication altogether, according to a recent survey from the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP).

“The cost of prescription medications is major financial burden to many Americans,” says Jill Martin, PharmD, associate professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Pharmacy and president of the ASHP. “Sometimes they have to make the choice between buying groceries and paying their bills or filling their prescription medications.”

The ASHP survey of 1,006 Americans revealed that one out of every 10 respondents said that they or a family member has been sick or has had an illness worsen because they were unable to afford to fill their prescriptions. Nearly three-fourths of American households (72.8 percent) have at least one member currently taking a prescription medication, and almost half of all household members were taking three or more prescription drugs. The average number of medications being taken in homes with senior citizens (65 years and older) is 5.7.

“American households are spending an average of $103.50 a month out-of-pocket for prescription medications,” says Dr. Martin. “More than 10 million households are spending $200 or more. Nearly one out of four surveyed (representing 68 million Americans) report that their health insurance doesn’t include prescription drug coverage (13 percent) or that they don’t have health insurance at all (11.1 percent).”

Dr. Martin, who is also the director of transplant outcomes for University Hospital, says the coping mechanisms many Americans have adopted to deal with the rising cost of medication are risky for their health.

“Skipping doses, taking less than the prescribed amount of a medication or skipping medications altogether means that patients are, at best, not getting desired results from their medicines and, at worst, threatening their lives,” she says.

Dr. Martin stresses that patients should take their medications as prescribed because:
  • You will not get the full benefit of a medication if you skip a dose. Some medications, such as antibiotics and statins (for blood cholesterol), may not successfully treat your condition if not taken as prescribed.
  • If your physician is unaware that you are skipping doses, or taking less than the prescribed amount of medication, they may think the medication is not working for you and prescribe an additional medication. This can actually add to the cost of your prescriptions, and the drugs may interact. 

“We’re one of the richest countries on earth, yet families are struggling to pay for medications and their behaviors may be jeopardizing their health,” says Dr. Martin. “It’s important, however, that people realize there are things they can do to help offset the cost of their medications rather than skipping them or taking less than what has been prescribed.” 

Dr. Martin shares the following options for helping Americans pay for their medications:
  • Remember that your pharmacist is a member of your health-care team. If you can’t afford the medication prescribed to you, ask if there is a generic available.
  • Depending on your insurance, a drug prescribed for you may be covered as a formulary or non-formulary. Non-formulary prescriptions cost more and there may be a medication in the same family of drugs that is formulary and more affordable. Also, some insurance plans will not cover non-formulary prescriptions at all. Your pharmacist can work with your physician to determine if there’s a formulary or generic drug in the same family of drugs prescribed to you that may be more cost effective.
  • Some patients may not be able to tolerate, or experience as many benefits from, a formulary or a generic drug as the non-formulary drug prescribed to them. Again, your pharmacist can work with your physician to determine your individual needs and may be able to work with your insurance provider to get a prescription covered that otherwise may not be.
  • Some pills can be safely split. Ask your physician or pharmacist if the medication you have been prescribed can be split. If it can, your physician can prescribe twice the dose needed and you can cut the pill in half with a pill splitter. Getting double the medication in one prescription saves money, but the patient must clearly understand to take “half” the pill, have manual dexterity and good eyesight to manage this approach.
  • Talk to your physician or pharmacist about medication assistance programs for which you may qualify.   

There are things you should not do to save money on your prescriptions, according to Dr. Martin.
  • Don’t skip medications, cut your dosage in half or stop taking them altogether.
  • Don’t buy medications from foreign countries over the Internet. Other countries do not have the safeguards in place that the United States does to prevent counterfeit medications. Also, some drugs in other countries have the same or similar name as products in the United States but contain very different active ingredients.
  • If you do order medications over the Internet, buy them only from pharmacy Web sites that have the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy VIPPS (verified pharmacy practice sites) symbol. 

Dr. Martin also cautions patients to be aware of all prescription medications they are taking.

“People often see multiple physicians, such as a family doctor and a specialist. It’s critical that they let each physician know what medications they’re taking to avoid drug interactions. If you have to go to the hospital, it’s critical they’re aware of what prescriptions you’re taking as well.”

Patients can download forms to help them keep track of their medications, as well as find other helpful information, at the ASHP’s Web site

UC Health Line contains timely health information and is distributed every Tuesday by the UC Academic Health Center public relations and communications department.

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