It’s tough paying for medications.
Whether they’re for multiple sclerosis (MS) or another illness, Americans are having a hard time coming up with the cash needed to cover the cost of their meds. Many people are developing workarounds and compromises to deal with the problem. And in some cases, these strategies can potentially harm their health.
An article by STAT quotes a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which describes the three cost-saving strategies that patients are using: alternative therapies, asking the doctor to prescribe a less expensive medication, and — here’s the dangerous one — reducing the dose of a medication: cutting pills in half or taking a daily dose every two or three days.
Who’s cutting pills?
Unsurprisingly, according to the CDC report, the people most likely to try money-saving ideas are those who aren’t covered by insurance. More than 33 percent of that group isn’t taking their meds as prescribed. But it’s also a problem for some people who are covered by insurance. The report says 8 percent of people with private insurance and 13 percent with Medicare coverage aren’t following their doctors’ orders regarding their prescriptions.
That worries people like Vanderbilt University health policy researcher Stacie Dusetzina. “We don’t want people cutting back on necessary treatments,” Dusetzina told STAT. “And taking drugs at too low a dose, or for less time than necessary, could also end up causing new problems, such as developing resistance to a drug.”
What about less expensive meds?
A better cost-cutting strategy seems to be asking the doctor to prescribe a lower-cost medication. According to the CDC report, in 2017 about 20 percent of patients asked their physician for a less costly alternative to their prescribed therapy. Dusetzina said that approach could have two positive outcomes: saving out-of-pocket costs for patients and money for the healthcare system.
I switched the disease-modifying therapy I was using to treat my MS a few years ago to save money, but the healthcare system didn’t benefit. I moved from an oral medication to an infusion, primarily because Medicare and my secondary insurance provided 100 percent of the coverage for the infusion, but Medicare required a large co-pay for the pill.
Alternative treatments are the third cost-saving method used by patients. About 5 percent of adults said they used alternative therapies as a way to reduce their drug costs. Medical marijuana and CBD oil are becoming more popular. Some people adopt particular diets to help with their symptoms rather than meds. But there are risks here along with the possible cost savings. For example, does bee sting therapy work as well as a traditional therapy in treating MS? Dusetzia cautions: “You would really want to make sure that the alternative therapies are truly equal when it comes to clinical benefit.”
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