Fewer People Are Strategizing With Prescription Drug Choices to Control Their Health Care Costs

March 19, 2019, 12:23 PM UTC

The U.S. has the highest drug prices in the world. Despite enormous expenses in research and marketing, pharmaceutical companies have the tenth highest profit levels among all industries.

Despite some attention from Congress and the administration, prices remain high and promise to continue do so, at least in the immediate future. You might expect that people look for ways, whether good or bad, to lower their drug expenses. But the number doing so has fallen since 2013, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About 60% of adults from 18 to 64 years have been prescribed medication over the last 12 months. Seventy percent of prescription drug medications carry out-of-pocket costs. To reduce those expenses, adults can ask a doctor for lower-cost-medication, fail to take medicine as proscribed, or use an alternative therapy. The use of all three strategies has dropped since 2013.

The percentage of adults asking their doctors for less expensive choices dropped from 25.8% in 2013 to 19.8% in 2015. Now the percentage is 19.5%.

In 2013, 14.9% of adults with prescriptions did not take the medicine as directed—like rationing doses. By 2017, the percentage of adults doing so was 11.4%. Use of alternative therapies as a cost-cutting measure dropped from 5.8% in 2013 to 4.8% in 2015 and back to 5.4% by 2017.

But drug control strategies have unequal health impacts. Taking too little medicine can reduce the effectiveness of the treatment and endanger a patient, as happened to a diabetic young man in 2017. Working off his mother’s health insurance, he tried to use less insulin, ultimately resulting in his death less than a month later.