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Survey Shows Adults With Diabetes Struggle With Drug Costs

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Survey Shows Adults With Diabetes Struggle With Drug Costs

Many American adults struggle to pay for prescription drugs, to the point of not filling a prescription due to the cost — and this is especially true for people with diabetes, according to the results of a survey released by the nonprofit group West Health and the polling organization Gallup.

As noted in a HealthDay article on the national sample of adults in the United States, an estimated 15.5 million adults under age 65 went without a prescription drug because they were unable to afford it. At age 65, of course, adults become eligible for Medicare in the United States, the federal insurance program that includes prescription drug coverage. The survey included thousands of respondents during sample periods in January, March, April, and June 2021.

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The survey showed that out of 4,843 respondents surveyed in June, 7% went without a prescription drug in the last three months due to the cost of the drug. This proportion was 19% for people who earned less than $24,000 per year, 12% for those who earned at least $24,000 but less than $48,000, 7% for those who earned at least $48,00 but less than $90,000, 5% for those who earned at least $90,000 but less than $120,000, and 2% for those who earned at least $120,000.

Compared with the overall 7% of adults who couldn’t afford to fill a prescription, this number was 12% for adults with diabetes, 12% for those with depression, 12% for those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and 15% for people who are immune compromised. The average number of prescription drugs that survey respondents were currently using was 2.82, with 33% not using any prescription drugs. Another 15% used one drug, 13% used two drugs, 20% used three to four prescription drugs, and 19% used five or more prescription drugs.

Lower-income adults — those who can least afford prescription drugs — were also found to be most likely to need them. Among those earning less than $24,000 per year, 37% used five or more prescription drugs. This proportion was 22% for those who earned at least $24,000 but less than $48,000, 20% for those who earned at least $48,00 but less than $90,000, 16% for those who earned at least $90,000 but less than $120,000, 10% for those who earned at least $120,000 but less than $180,000, and 9% for those who earned at least $180,000.

When asked about potential solutions to the high cost of many prescription drugs, 81% supported letting Medicare negotiate prescription drug prices — something that government health programs do to lower drug costs in every other advanced country. Only 19% said that allowing such negotiations “will hurt pharmaceutical competition and innovation.” Large majorities in every age and income group supported letting Medicare negotiate drug prices — ranging from a high of 86% for adults ages 18-29 to a low of 78% for those ages 50-64, and from a high of 87% for those who earned less than $24,000 per year to a low of 74% for those who earned at least $90,000 but less than $120,000. When it came to political party affiliation, letting Medicare negotiate drug prices was supported by 97% of Democrats, 80% of independents, and 61% of Republicans. This stands in contrast to the positions taken by members of Congress, where nearly all Republicans and a handful of Democrats oppose letting Medicare negotiate drug prices.

On the more general question of whether government is doing “too much,” “about the right amount,” or “not enough” to make prescription drugs affordable, there was even more agreement among different groups of survey respondents. When it came to income, the proportion choosing “not enough” ranged from a high of 86% for adults who earned at least $24,000 but less than $48,000 per year, to a low of 80% for those who earned at least $48,00 but less than $90,000 or at least $120,000. When it came to age, the proportion choosing “not enough” ranged from a high of 86% for adults age 65 or older, to a low of 79% for those ages 40-49. When it came to political party affiliation, “not enough” was the choice of 90% of Democrats, 80% of independents, and 72% of Republicans.

Want to learn more about saving on your diabetes care? Read “Save Money on Medicines,” “Stay Healthy On a Budget” and “Cutting Costs for Diabetes Care: Quiz.” 

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips on social media

A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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