Seniors skipping doses, prescriptions

October 1, 2002

Pharmaceutical Representative

Nearly one quarter of seniors report skipping doses of medicine or not filling prescriptions because of costs.

A survey of seniors in eight states - California, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas - by the Menlo Park, CA-based Kaiser Family Foundation and the New York-based Commonwealth Fund found that nearly one quarter of seniors report skipping doses of medicine or not filling prescriptions because of costs.

"With one in four seniors skipping medications, lack of drug coverage is more than a financial burden – it's a health risk for seniors," said Drew Altman, president and chief executive officer of Kaiser.

Skipping doses or prescriptions

A significant number of seniors reported forgoing prescribed medications due to high out-of-pocket costs. Nearly one-quarter of all seniors (22%) said they did not fill a prescription because it was too expensive or skipped doses of their medications to make them last longer. These numbers are even higher among seniors who lack coverage - 35% of whom skipped doses or did not have prescriptions filled.

Low-income seniors, regardless of whether they had coverage or not, have difficulty meeting their prescription drug needs, according to the survey: 31% of all low-income seniors and 42% of low-income seniors who lacked drug coverage either skipped doses or did not fill a prescription because of costs. Among low-income seniors with some form of drug coverage, 37% of those enrolled in a Medicare HMO, 31% of those with Medigap, 28% of those helped by state pharmacy assistance programs and 24% of those with Medicaid coverage reported skipping doses or forgoing medication due to cost.

Varied levels of coverage

The survey also found that the percentage of seniors who do not have prescription drug coverage varies substantially by state: California (18%), New York (19%), Pennsylvania (21%), Ohio (22%), Colorado (23%), Michigan (25%), Illinois (31%) and Texas (31%). The range was even wider for low-income seniors, from 20% in New York and California to 38% in Michigan and Texas.

Four of the states included in the survey offer pharmacy assistance programs for low-income seniors (Illinois, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania), but in each of these states, large gaps in coverage remain. In New York and Pennsylvania, where pharmacy assistance programs are among the largest and most extensive in the nation, a significant share of low-income seniors lack prescription coverage (20% and 25%, respectively). In Illinois and Michigan, the percentage of low-income seniors without drug coverage (34% and 38%, respectively) was at least as high as that in states without pharmacy assistance programs.

"States are not succeeding at solving the prescription drug coverage problem," said Dana Gelb Safran, principal investigator of the survey. "The fact that we found gaps in coverage of this magnitude, even in states with programs that are widely viewed as the gold standard, underscores the need for a national policy solution." PR

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