High drug prices often lead Americans on Medicare to hold off on filling their prescriptions, even for threatening diseases such as cancer, a study in the journal Health Affairs suggests.
The analysis found that a large percentage of beneficiaries in Medicare’s prescription drug program do not fill their prescriptions for high-priced drugs, but low-income beneficiaries who receive government subsidies were nearly twice as likely as those who don’t get financial help to get their prescribed drugs within 90 days.
Looking at Medicare beneficiaries who do not receive subsidies, the study found that about 30% who had a new prescription for a cancer drug did not fill that prescription within 90 days. The cancer drugs could cost $3,000 for a first fill and then $600 to $1,000 for every refill, far higher than the out-of-pocket cost for patients with subsidies.
“The financial situation for someone who is being prescribed a new cancer treatment is quite shocking and absolutely unattainable for many people,” Stacie Dusetzina, a health policy researcher from Vanderbilt University Medical Center and lead author of the study, said in a Health Affairs podcast.
The study also found that 22% of prescriptions for hepatitis C treatments went unfilled, as did more than 50% of prescriptions to treat hypercholesterolemia and immune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis.
The study looked at 17,076 new prescriptions issued between 2012 and 2018 for Part D beneficiaries across 11 different health systems.
Nearly three in four Medicare beneficiaries do not qualify for subsidies because their incomes are too high, STAT’s Ed Silverman reports.