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Times are financially tough for many families, especially low-income Latinos.
To save money, many people are cutting costs on non-essentials, like eating out, entertainment, and more.
But some people are cutting costs on items that are normally considered essential, like prescription medications, according to a recent US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) report.
Let’s explore what adults are most likely to skip taking medications to save money, the consequences of this behavior, and how leaders are working to reduce the cost of prescription drugs.
Groups Most Affected by Drug Costs
Unfortunately, groups most likely to skip medication to save money are those who are already vulnerable to health disparities, according to the CDC report.
These groups include adults who lack healthcare coverage (such as Latinos, who are uninsured more than two times the rate of their white peers), those in fair or poor health, those with disabilities, and women.
For example, in the past year, 9.7% of Latino adults did not take prescribed medication due to cost, a higher percentage than their White (7.4%) and Asian (6.8%) peers.
These groups may have a harder time affording prescriptions for a variety of reasons, but a major contributing factor is the cost of medications for both insured and uninsured patients.
Cost of High Drug Prices
On average, Americans pay up to three times as much as people in other countries for prescription drugs, and one in four Americans who take prescription drugs struggle to afford their medications, according to a 2022 White House executive order to lower prescription drug costs.
For instance, diabetes affects six million Americans, especially Latinos.
The out-of-pocket price for a vial of insulin (a drug used to manage diabetes) ranges from $50 to over $1,000, and a pack of insulin pens ranges from $45 to over $600. Most diabetes patients need about two vials of insulin per month or one to two packs of insulin pens, physician and pharmacist Stephanie Redmond, PharmD, CDE, BC-ADM, told Verywell Health.
Those with health insurance can expect to pay an average of over $35 a month per insulin product, which is still unaffordable for many.
In fact, a 2022 study suggests that 14% of Americans spend a “catastrophic” level of income on insulin, meaning that after paying for other essentials, such as food and housing, they spend at least 40% of their remaining income on insulin.
Cancer drugs are also unaffordable for the average American, including Latinos, who suffer from higher rates of certain cancers.
Whether cancer patients have insurance or not, it is common for them to go into significant debt, seek help via crowdfunding (like GoFundMe), declare bankruptcy, or lose their home due to the cost of cancer treatment and drugs.
Cost of Skipping Medication Doses
Sadly, Americans have been skipping prescribed medication to save money for years.
While skipping medication may save money in the short term, it can result in more serious illness that increases overall cost of care, creating a vicious cycle of financial strain.
Skipping medication to save money can also have deadly consequences, which was the case of 26-year-old Alec.
He was $300 short of the $1,300 he needed for insulin to manage his type 1 diabetes. He rationed the insulin he had left, hoping to make it to payday.
Unfortunately, he passed away three days before payday because he couldn’t get the insulin he needed.
“This, to me, seems like a crisis. Patients literally need to decide if they will pay for their insulin or for their housing and food,” wrote Dr. Irl Hirsch of the University of Washington Diabetes Institute in a Diabetes Spectrum article.
Lowering the Cost of Prescription Medications
Luckily, there have been big strides in lowering insulin costs for diabetes patients.
But the cost of many medications, especially those used to treat cancer, continue to climb.
Action in five areas is key to increasing access to and affordability of medications for Americans, according to a recent report from the Commonwealth Fund:
- allow the federal government to become a more responsible purchaser;
- stop patent abuses and anticompetitive practices that block price competition;
- build a sustainable biosimilar market to create price competition;
- fix incentives in the drug supply chain and make the supply chain more transparent; and
- ensure public accountability in the government-funded drug development process.
“Congress and regulators have a wide range of tools at their disposal to address high drug prices and spending,” according to the report.
President Biden has also made lowering the cost of prescription medications a top priority for the White House. In August 2022, he signed the Inflation Reduction Act, which aims to lower the cost of drug prices and help make family health insurance plans more affordable.
However, critics argue that these efforts primarily benefit those on Medicare and Medicaid, leaving millions at a loss hoping to save some dough at the pharmacy.
How Can You Help?
As elected leaders work on making medication more affordable, you can help promote health where you live for Latinos and all people.
Select your county and get a Health Equity Report Card by Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio.
In your report card, you will see maps, data, and gauges to compare health equity issues, including healthcare access and income level, to the rest of your state and nation.
You can email your Health Equity Report Card to local leaders to stimulate community change. Use the data in your materials or share on social media to raise awareness.