National Consumers League

Don't Let the Economy Make You Sick


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by Mimi Johnson, Health Policy Associate

An article in last week’s NY Times outlines just how dangerous the poor economy can be on our health. A study, conducted nationally via telephone, reported that one in seven Americans under the age of 65 went without prescribed medication because they couldn’t afford it. What’s more alarming is that this number has likely grown since the survey was conducted in 2007 due to the current economic slump.

Among those surveyed, uninsured, working adults with at least one chronic condition were the most unlikely to fill a prescription. It is most important for this group of people to take their medications as directed, or their health will deteriorate and the cost of treatment will only increase.

It’s not only the uninsured who are affected by the rising costs of health care. The NY Times article states that “nearly one in four adults on Medicaid or state insurance programs said they’d had difficulty affording drugs.” And American veterans are among those most likely to forgo treatment as their co-pays rise.

Growing medical costs and diminishing medical coverage affect a majority of this nation; the National Consumers League is optimistic that a new Congress and Administration will address this serious problem. NCL is a member of Health Care for America Now, which calls for Congress to cover everyone with adequate insurance.

If you are among those who CAN afford to fill your prescription, it is important not only that you fill it, but that you also take the medicines as directed. It may seem like a good idea to conserve the meds in order to stretch the prescription between refills. But the costs – both to your health and your pocketbook – associated with NOT taking your prescribed medications are far greater than the costs of filling your prescription and taking your medications at the onset.

If you have questions, talk with your doctor. A study by the American Academy of Family Physicians found that doctors are often not very good at communicating the importance of taking your medicines as directed. As a consumer, it is your right and duty to ask the questions, prepare a medication list, and to work with your health care providers to understand how to incorporate the medication into your life. (You can learn more about this at the National Council on Patient Information and Education's site here.)

The appropriate use of medication has long been an important issue to the League. In fact, we are currently in the planning phase of a national medication adherence campaign. If you would like to learn more about this campaign and our work on adherence, please contact NCL at (202) 835-3323, and ask to speak with our health policy department.