Some adults not taking drugs as prescribed to cut costs, study finds

Drugs and money sign
Many adults are avoiding high drug costs by not taking the medication as prescribed. (Getty/ADragan)

Amid rising drug prices, many adults are avoiding the out-of-pocket spending by turning toward alternative therapies, asking a physician for a different drug or simply not taking the medication as prescribed, a new study shows.

Almost 60% of all U.S. adults were prescribed medication in 2017, with almost 70% of those prescriptions coming with out-of-pocket costs, according to a National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) data brief (PDF). The researchers found that the number of adults who asked their doctor for a lower-cost medication significantly decreased between the years 2013 and 2015, dropping from 25.8% to 19.8%. However, the levels remained around the 19.5% mark for the next two years.  

The demographics most likely to ask for lower-cost medication are women and uninsured adults, according to the study. About 22% of women and 16.4% of men were most likely to ask for cheaper drugs. And uninsured adults—close to 40%—were more than twice as likely as those with private insurance or Medicaid to ask for lower-cost medication. 

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In addition, the number of adults who did not take their medication as prescribed decreased from 14.9% in 2013 to 11.1% in 2015 and remained around 11.4% from 2015 to 2017. Again, women and uninsured adults were the largest demographic to not take drugs as prescribed.

About 13% of women were more likely than 9.7% of men to not take their medication as prescribed. And 33.6% of uninsured adults and 8.4% of those with private health insurance, and 12.5% with Medicaid, did not take their medication as prescribed. 

RELATED: Uninsured rate hangs at about 9% in first half of 2019, report finds

Similarly, the number of adults who used alternative therapies decreased from 5.8% in 2013 to 4.8% in 2015 and remained around 5.4% between 2015 and 2017. Women, 6.6% of whom moved to alternative therapies, were more likely than men, 3.9%, to use them. Plus, uninsured adults, 13.9%, were more likely than those with private health insurance, 4.4%, or Medicaid, 6.4%, to use alternative therapies. 

What surprised the researchers most about this data?

"Strategies used by adults aged 18 to 64 who were prescribed medication in the past 12 months were most commonly practiced among the uninsured," Robin Cohen, one of the study's authors told FierceHealthcare. "Almost 40% asked their doctor for a lower-cost medication, more than 33% did not take their medication as prescribed and almost 14% used alternative therapies."

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