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New Report Shows Patient Struggle with Drug Costs; Aging Committee Discusses Options to Improve Affordability

March 08, 2019

A new poll details the extent to which Americans are struggling to afford prescription drug medications and the impact of rising drug costs on their care. The poll validates the intensity of interest by federal policymakers to advance proposals to address prescription drug costs. Numerous Congressional committees have held hearings exploring drug prices; this week the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging launched its review of the issue. 

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll published on March 1, 2019, found that nearly one in four Americans who take prescription drugs report difficulty affording their medications. Specifically, of those taking prescriptions, 24 percent of adults and 23 percent of seniors say it is “difficult” to afford their prescription medication. Ten percent of adults and 10 percent of seniors characterize medication affordability as “very difficult.”

The most vulnerable populations appear to be at greatest risk. Among medication takers, 58 percent of those spending over $100 per month on prescriptions, 49 percent of those identifying as being in fair or poor health, and 35 percent of those with annual incomes below $40,000, report difficulty affording their medication.

Particularly concerning is that 29 percent of those taking prescription drugs report that they did not adhere to their prescribed medication regime at some point in the last year due to cost. Of those who reported difficulty in affording their prescription drugs, nearly 60 percent did not take their medicine as prescribed during the past 12 months due to cost. The poll revealed:

  • 41 percent failed to fill a prescription for a medicine
  • 29 percent had taken an over-the-counter drug instead
  • 35 percent cut pills in half or skipped a dose

Of those patients who faced difficulty affording their drugs and as a result did not take their medication as prescribed, 27 percent faced a deterioration of their condition.

The U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging held the first two hearings in a three part series exploring “The Complex Web of Prescription Drug Prices.” The first hearing focused on the patient perspective in struggling with rising costs and the second hearing featured a more academic discussion considering potential policy solutions. A third hearing, later this spring, will provide an opportunity for the Committee to hear from Administration officials about their proposed solutions.

As Ranking Member of the Aging Committee, U.S. Senator Bob Casey focused on the difficulty seniors on fixed incomes face in managing high drug costs. Senator Casey highlighted two bipartisan bills that he has introduced to improve affordability:

  • The Prescription Drug Pricing Dashboard Act which would increase transparency and access to information by guaranteeing information about drug costs—for drugs in the Medicare Part B and D programs and Medicaid—are by posting them annually on the Drug Spending Dashboards at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
  • The Medicare Extra Rx HELP Act, which would increase access to the Medicare Part D Low-Income Subsidy, Extra Help program under the Part D prescription drug benefit, to ensure low-income seniors and people with disabilities have assistance with their premiums and cost-sharing

The American Hospital Association is spearheading hospital efforts to advance policy solutions that address unsustainable drug prices. HAP continues to support the AHA’s efforts and will be working with the Pennsylvania Congressional Delegation to convey the hospital community’s perspectives and priorities around this complex issue. 

Please contact Laura Stevens Kent, HAP’s vice president, federal advocacy, with questions regarding federal activity pertaining to drug prices.

 

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