Not being able to afford their medical expenses and prescription medications is again the top financial worry for people in the USA, says a Consumer Reports Index survey. The authors add that in 2011, a record number of people are taking some serious risks with their prescription regimes.

In its third annual survey, the Consumer Reports National Research Center questioned a number of consumers regarding their usage of health-care services and prescription and OTC (over-the-counter) drugs, as well as asking them what they do when they don’t have enough money.

The proportion of Americans who skipped their medication or other health care services for financial reasons went up a full 9 percentage points, to 48% from 39% – the highest increase ever recorded.

The authors questioned 2,038 adults, who they say are a representative sample of the USA. 1,226 of them (49%) self-reported to be on at least one prescription medication. The average number of medications people said they were taking regularly was 4.5. Adults earning less than $40,000 per year take 5.7 prescriptions, and those aged at least 65 years take 5.5 prescriptions – these two groups take the greatest number of prescriptions.

Out-of-pocket expenses for patients who regularly take a prescription medication have dropped from $68 two years ago to $59. An increase in generic usage has brought about the decline, the authors explained.

Lisa Gill, prescription drug editor, Consumer Reports Health, said:

“Our polling suggests that the burden of prescription drug prices is coming down as our medicine cabinets are more frequently filled with generic drugs. But the costs of multiple prescriptions has proved to be onerous for many Americans, so much so that some consumers are making unhealthy tradeoffs.”

48% of those on prescription medications said they took measures, some of them potentially damaging to their health, to save money, such as:

  • Postponing a medical procedure – 17%
  • Postponing seeing a doctor – 21%
  • Refusing to have medical tests – 14%

28% of those on prescription medications..:

  • Broke their tablet/pill in half without checking with a health care professional – 8%
  • Did not fill a prescription – 16%
  • Missed scheduled doses of their medication without checking with a health care professional – 12%
  • Shared their prescription with another person – 4%
  • Took medications that had passed their expiry date – 13%

Cutting a tablet in half can be potentially dangerous, especially if it is a slow-release drug.

Among patients on prescription medications, approximately three-quarters of them opted for cheaper generic versions of the drug.

Myths regarding generic medications are common. 39% of those surveyed believed that generic drugs were less effective than brand-named ones, and possibly not as safe. They also believed genetic drugs had a greater risk of side-effects, and were not subject to the same federal standards as brand named products.

Both branded products and their generic equivalents have identical active ingredients and are subject to the same regulatory stipulations.

41% of those surveyed said their physician never (or rarely) recommended generic medications.

Only about 1 in every 20 doctors talks to his/her patient about drug costs. 64% of respondents did not know how much they were going to have to pay until they reached the pharmacy and picked up their prescription.

John Santa, M.D., director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center, said:

“If a patient can’t afford their medication, that’s something his or her doctor needs to know. But to find out, doctors have to ask.

Doctors should think of themselves as stewards of their patient’s care. and that includes considering their patient’s ability to pay for treatment.”

18% of those interviewed said they asked their physician to prescribe them a medication after seeing an advert for it – of those, 70% got what they asked for. Unfortunately, advertised medications are often brand-named ones with no generic versions.

The majority of those surveyed appear to have doubts regarding how physicians prescribe drugs and how pharmaceutical companies promote them and influence their decisions.

A major misgiving among respondents was regarding pharmaceutical companies that give doctors incentives for prescribing their medications. 76% of them expressed concern about doctors who are paid by drug companies to talk on their behalf, either as spokespeople or by providing testimonials.

Santa said:

“Some doctors are still taking money from industry and they may be lagging when it comes to suggesting alternatives to drug therapy, prescribing less expensive generics, and talking to their patients about cost issues. This is not a time for doctors to cave into industry influence nor is it a good time to be passive about the fiduciary interests of their patients.”

Written by Christian Nordqvist