News & Commentary

Too Many Americans Not Taking Their Meds

Frank Diamond

Poverty rates and insurance coverage (or lack of it) heavily influence whether adults take their medications as prescribed, according to a study by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.

Nearly 1 in 10 Americans do not adhere to the pharmaceutical regimen that best addresses their needs, according to government researchers.

About 6% of adults younger than 64 who had private insurance skipped medications to save money; for those covered by Medicaid the proportion was 10.4%; and for the uninsured, 14%. Researchers used data from the 2013 National Health Interview.

“Lack of health insurance coverage and poverty are recognized risk factors for not taking medications as prescribed due to cost,” the study states.

About 8% of adults do not take their drugs and 15% ask for something that costs less. In addition, 1.6% bought prescriptions from another country, and 4.3% used alternative medicines.

These trends are even greater among the most economically disadvantaged adults. For instance, among adults ages 18 to 64 with incomes of 139% of the federal poverty level (FPL) or lower—the cutoff in most states for Medicaid eligibility—the percentage who asked their doctors for a lower-cost medication to save money rose to more than 17%.

For adults 65 and older, the share who asked for a lower-cost medication increased from 15% among those making below 139% FPL to 21% among those with incomes from 139% to 250% FPL.

Adults 65 and older who are covered by private insurance were less likely than any other group to not take their medication as prescribed. Just 4% of that group are nonadherent.

The effect of people using alternative medicine or buying their drugs abroad is unknown, say researchers. They also note that differences in cost-saving strategies by insurance coverage may be interrelated with socioeconomic and other patient characteristics.

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