Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues…

How High Drug Prices Weigh on the Sickest Americans

This was published as a Wall Street Journal Think Tank column on December 28, 2015.

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Kaiser Family Foundation findings of health status among those who take prescription drugs and the share of those who take prescription drugs and have trouble paying for them.

The more drugs people take and the sicker they are, the more likely they are to experience problems paying for prescription medicines–or to forgo them altogether because of cost. It may not be surprising that people who use more drugs have the greatest problems paying for them. It’s also never a good thing when people with the greatest need struggle the most to pay for health care.

Eighty percent of people who are in excellent, very good, or good health and who are currently taking prescription medicine say it is easy or somewhat easy to pay for their prescription drugs, Kaiser Family Foundation polling has found. But, as the chart above shows, 43% of people in fair or poor health and 38% of those taking four or more drugs a year say it is somewhat or very difficult to pay for their medications. An identical 43% of those in fair or poor health and 35% of those taking four or more drugs say they did not fill a prescription or say they cut pills in half or skipped doses because of cost.

The pattern holds for seniors on Medicare as well. Twenty percent of seniors taking prescription medicine report difficulty paying for their drugs. Among seniors taking four or more medications, the share rises to 29%. A relatively small number of people on Medicare also take high-priced specialty-tier drugs that have been in the news. Even when a specialty medication is covered by a Medicare drug plan, patients can pay thousands of dollars out of pocket for just one drug unless they get cost assistance from government or a drug company.

While insurance companies and drug companies tussle over the high cost of drugs and policy makers debate potential actions, the fact that people with the greatest needs bear the brunt of high drug prices adds urgency to the problem.

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.