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Breaking The Bank

Breaking The BankNearly one in four seniors skips doses of prescription drugs because they are too expensive, report Tufts experts.

Boston [08.02.02] In a report issued just hours before the U.S. Senate rejected a proposal to add prescription drugs to Medicare coverage, experts from Tufts reported that nearly a quarter of all senior citizens skip doses or avoid renewing their prescription drugs because they cost too much.

"The survey of 10,927 seniors in eight states focused on the struggle to afford medicine by those 65 and older," reported the Fresno Bee. "Results showed that seniors are having an increasingly difficult time paying for lifesaving medicines."

The survey - which received international media attention - was conducted by experts from Tufts' Medical School, the Tufts-News England Medical Center [T-NEMC] and the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The findings, said lead author Dr. Dana Gelb Safran - show that current efforts to help seniors pay for the rising costs of their prescriptions are failing.

"These programs are not solving the problems, particularly for the low-income seniors they are expected to serve," Safran - an assistant professor at Tufts' School of Medicine - said in an article in the Detroit Free Press.

As a result, many people are putting their health at risk to save money.

"Three in 10 seniors with high blood pressure and no drug coverage, for example, said they had skipped doses. Almost as many said they had not filled one or more of their prescriptions," reported the Philadelphia Inquirer. "Failure to take the proper medication can have severe consequences and can lead to hospitalizations that add to the nation's health care expenditures."

The findings bring renewed focus to the lack of prescription drug coverage in many health care plans and its impact on older Americans.

"The report paints a dismal picture for the nation's elderly," reported the Fresno Bee. "Many seniors reported having no prescription coverage as part of their health plan and having difficulty paying for a health plan that covers prescriptions. Nearly 25 percent of seniors reported they spent $100 or more per month out-of-pocket for medicines in 2001."

The facts uncovered by the survey, Safran says, require immediate attention. Watch the healthcast [Real Player | Windows Media]

"The fact that we found gaps in coverage of this magnitude, even in states with programs that are widely viewed as the gold standard, underscores the need for a national policy solution," she said.

And with more and more seniors facing the tough choice between saving money and buying prescriptions, doctors need to become more vigilant, says Tufts' Dr. Ira Wilson.

"[The internist at Tufts-NEMC] suspects that more and more of his elderly patients don't buy medicine he prescribes or they skip doses to make a bottle of pills last longer," reported ABC News.

Many doctors probably know the same thing is happening among their patients, but don't pursue it.

"There is often a don't ask, don't tell policy going on here with doctors and patients, so we often don't know the details unless we ask and persist and try to get good explanations," Wilson told the national news network.

But unless more doctors take a more active role, seniors will continue to risk their health to lower their costs.

"You have to ask about it," Wilson told ABC News. "You have to sort of ask several times and probe and make sure you really understand, and then you have to troubleshoot."


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