The Horrifying Number of Americans Who Can’t Afford Their Prescription Drugs

The Horrifying Number of Americans Who Can’t Afford Their Prescription Drugs

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Plus, fiscal hawk challenging Trump drops out of presidential race
Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Horrifying Number of Americans Who Can’t Afford Their Prescription Drugs

An estimated 58 million Americans — nearly 23% of the population — report that they couldn’t afford a drug they needed at some point in the last 12 months, according to a new Gallup poll published Tuesday. That number has risen significantly in recent months, with a 4 percentage-point increase just since January.

The September survey of 1,099 people also found that most Americans agree that drug prices are too high, with 69% of respondents saying prescription drug costs are "usually much higher" than they should be.

High prices aren’t restricted to drugs, and the consequences of rising costs can be deadly. About 34 million Americans — more than 13% of the adult population — say they know of a family member or friend who died after they skipped medical treatment due to their inability to pay for it.

“The substantial number of Americans who know someone who has died after not receiving treatment because of their inability to pay for it, coupled with the rise in the percentage who have not had enough money to pay for their prescriptions, underscores the urgency of the U.S. healthcare cost crisis,” Gallup’s Dan Witters wrote Tuesday. “These realities starkly highlight the significant practical implications of drug prices on U.S. residents, as well as the effects of healthcare policy action -- or inaction.”

Chart of the Day

Americans aren’t the only ones who sometimes skip medications because of costs — but far more Americans do so than citizens of other high-income countries. The chart below shows the percentage of people over age 55 who reported skipping a drug treatment due to cost in 11 wealthy countries, with Americans showing the worst results by a considerable margin. The New York Times’s Aaron E. Carroll reported Monday that even cancer patients who need steady doses to stay alive have been found skipping their medications, with those having higher co-payments for drugs more likely to do so than those with lower co-pays.

Number of the Day: $11 Trillion

Elizabeth Warren says that Americans will spend “about $11 trillion on insurance premiums, copays, deductibles and uncovered medical expenses” over the next 10 years if the current health care system remains in place. Kaiser Health News’ Shefali Luthra took a look at that eye-opening claim and found that it appears to be a reliable estimate.

In fact, the number could be a bit on the low side. Linda Blumberg, an economist at the Urban Institute, crunched the numbers and came up with an estimate of $11.7 trillion.

Warren has used the spending estimate to support her argument that a single-payer health care system would reduce medical costs for most Americans. Her Medicare-for-All proposal would eliminate those out-of-pocket expenses, though it would also require shifting most health care spending onto the federal budget. “Talking about the amount of money we expect households to be spending over time is a very important part of trying to educate people on what single-payer would do, and what the tradeoffs are for them,” said Blumberg.

Those tradeoffs include the big jump in government spending and the new taxes on businesses and the wealthy that would be required to cover it. Warren says federal spending would increase by roughly $20 trillion over 10 years, far less than Urban’s estimate of $34 trillion, with the difference driven by what Warren says will be huge reductions in overhead costs and lower reimbursement rates across the system.

Still, Warren’s cost projection makes one point clear: Under the current system, Americans pay a lot for their health care. “The $11 trillion figure is staggering — and it checks out,” Luthra wrote. “Whether and how to address that issue is fiercely controversial, but on this particular stat, Warren’s statement is accurate.”

Mark Sanford Ends 2020 Presidential Bid Challenging Trump

Former South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford suspended his longshot presidential bid on Tuesday, 65 days after he announced he would challenge President Trump for the 2020 Republican nomination.

A fiscal hawk, Sanford put the national debt, growing deficits and government spending at the core of his campaign. “Once every four years we have a chance to have a national debate on where we’re going next as Republicans and Democrats and as Americans,” he said. “The thing that has been lacking in this debate has been an earnest and real conversation on debt and deficits and government spending.”

Sanford’s dark horse campaign was hampered from the outset by strong Republican Party support for Trump, a lack of money and a lack of political and public interest in having the kind of national debate on debt and deficits he was hoping to foster.

Sanford said Tuesday that impeachment proceedings against Trump drowned out debate on other issues, including his focus on fiscal conservatism.

“I am suspending my race for the presidency because impeachment has made my goal of making the debt, deficit and spending issue a part of this presidential debate impossible right now,” he said. "From Day 1, I was fully aware of how hard it would be to elevate these issues with a sitting president of my own party ignoring them. Impeachment noise has moved what was hard to herculean as nearly everything in Republican Party politics is currently viewed through the prism of impeachment."

Sanford said he will look for other ways to promote debate on the deficit and government spending.

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