Study finds more patients paying greater share for prescriptions

NEWS IN BRIEF — Posted Feb. 20, 2012

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The number of people spending a significant proportion of their incomes on prescription medications declined from 2003 to 2007 because of the increased use of generics and tiered formularies. But then it inched upward in 2008 because of the economic downturn.

This is according to a study in the February issue of Health Affairs by researchers at the RAND Corp. The U.S. recession officially started in December 2007, and the unemployment rate had risen to 7.3% by December 2008.

The authors analyzed data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's Medical Expenditure Panel Survey. In 2003, 10.8 million people, or 4.3% of the under-65 population, spent at least 10% of their family income on prescription drugs. That is considered high. The percentage bottomed out at 2.8%, or 7.4 million people, in 2007 and went up to 3.1%, or 8.3 million people, in 2008.

People with employer-sponsored health insurance were the least likely to spend a high proportion of their incomes on prescription drugs. Patients with chronic health conditions or on public insurance were the most likely to spend a significant proportion of income on drugs.

Data for later years are not available, but researchers caution that the numbers may increase further as more expensive drugs are introduced and the prevalence of chronic conditions grows.

Note: This item originally appeared at

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