Academic journal article Policy & Practice of Public Human Services

Inside Story

Academic journal article Policy & Practice of Public Human Services

Inside Story

Article excerpt

A cross the country, people are upset about the price of their prescription drugs. Who can blame them? They are sick; some may even need their medicine to live but prescription drugs costs so much.

On the other side of the coin, for drugmakers these should be the best of times. Their recent profits have been in the stratosphere, and their laboratories are turning out stunning breakthroughs.

Yet, few people are happy with the drug companies. The reason: soaring drug costs. Rising prescription drug costs are helping to push state Medicaid programs over budget, causing health maintenance organizations (HMOs) to cut services or boost premiums. Drug prices are rising much faster than the inflation rate, even as the number of people with prescription drug insurance continues to decline. Approximately 70 million Americans have little or no prescription drug coverage. And this number is expected to increase as HMOs and insurance companies stop providing prescription drug coverage.

The surge in prescription drug costs has been most challenging for those older than 65. They make up 14 percent of the population but consume more than 30 percent of the prescriptions written in this country. According to a study conducted by the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, the average senior citizen spent $350 a year out of pocket for prescription drugs in 1999, compared with $69 for the average person under 65.

Retired seniors are the most vulnerable to the rising costs. They need more prescription drugs than others, often to control one or more chronic medical conditions, and they are typically on fixed incomes. Many of us have heard stories of seniors deciding whether to purchase their medicine or food, or purchase their medicine or housing. Officials at AARP have discovered that those who cannot afford exorbitant drug prices cope by sharing drugs, skipping doses, or simply doing without their medicine.

Our cover feature, "Runaway Prescription Drug Costs," looks at the rise in prescription drug costs and its effect on state budgets. …

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