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Consumer Reports: Americans On Meds Making Risky Health Care Tradeoffs

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DETROIT (WWJ) - As a result of the flagging economy, Americans are making risky tradeoffs that could be dangerous to their health, according to Consumer Reports’ annual prescription drug poll.

Forty-eight percent of Americans who currently take a prescription medicine told pollsters they’d cut health-care costs, for example, by putting off a doctor’s visit or medical procedure, declining tests, or ordering cheaper drugs from outside of the U.S. That’s an increase of 9 percentage points since 2010.

The survey also found that to save money, 28 percent of Americans who take medication have resorted to potentially dangerous actions. For example, they skipped filling a prescription (16 percent), took an expired medication (13 percent), or skipped a scheduled dosage without asking a doctor or pharmacist (12 percent). Larger numbers (35 percent) of low-income Americans took these risky steps.

Doctors could be doing more to insulate their patients from undue expenses. For example, not all doctors are routinely prescribing generics, which can be a tremendous money-saver; four out of ten respondents (41 percent) said their doctor only sometimes — or never — recommends a generic.

Doctors are only slightly more likely to recommend a generic substitute for a brand-name medicine than not. Fifty-four percent of those polled said their physician “always” (26 percent) or “usually” (28 percent) suggests generics, versus 41 percent who said “sometimes” or “never.”

While generics account for the majority of prescriptions among those taking drugs regularly, 39 percent of Americans reported a concern or misconception about generics.

Despite the costly burden of prescription drugs, very few doctors raise the issue of cost during their meetings with patients. Only 5 percent of patients found out the cost of a prescription drug during a doctor visit, while two-thirds (64 percent) first learned about cost when picking up their medicine at the pharmacy.

The number of Americans taking a medication who said that information about whether a doctor accepts money or gifts from drug companies is very valuable has increased significantly by nine percentage points since 2010 to 43 percent today.

Along the same lines, a strong majority (88 percent) of Americans who take a prescription drug harbor some misgivings about the influence of the pharmaceutical industry on the prescribing habits of their doctors. Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) agreed completely or somewhat that pharmaceutical companies have too much influence on the drugs that doctors prescribe. Just over half (52%) agreed that doctors are too eager to prescribe a drug rather than consider alternate methods of managing a condition. And half (49 percent) agreed that the drugs that doctors prescribe are influenced by gifts from pharmaceutical companies.

The poll serves as a reminder that a large swath of Americans regularly take multiple prescription drugs to treat their conditions, and the sticker shock associated with paying for all those drugs is taking a toll.

Half (49 percent) of Americans currently take a prescription drug, and among them, the average number regularly taken is 4.5 medicines. Consumers earning less than $40,000 and those aged 65 years or more take the greatest number of prescriptions (5.7 and 5.5 medicines, respectively).

Monthly out-of-pocket spending for those who regularly take a prescription drug is $59, a slight drop of $9 from two years ago. The decline appears to be driven by the increasing use of generics in response to household budget pressures.

Some advice for consumers:

• Consumers should not change the dosage of their prescription drugs on their own. If cost is a concern, it’s best for patients to raise the issue with their doctors when they prescribe medication, especially if the drug is being used long-term for a chronic condition. Consumers might also talk to the office nurse or a pharmacist.

• Ask about the possibility of taking a generic instead of a brand name drug. Generics use the same active ingredient as brand-name drugs, are regulated in the same manner, and must prove their “bioequivalence,” which means they release the same amount of the drug at the same rate as their brand-name counterpart.

• Pharmacists can be a helpful resource. They can point a consumer to a discount drug program. They know the pros and cons of drugs and their costs and they likely have a comprehensive record of an individual’s medicines.

• Many chain pharmacies offer a month’s supply for about $4 or a three month’s supply for $10, though restrictions apply. Local independent pharmacies may be willing to match these prices.

• Avoid free samples when possible because they’re usually available for newer, more expensive medications for which no generic is available, and that can cost a consumer when its time to fill the prescription.

For more tips, visit consumerreports.org/health.

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