Financially pressured Americans are making tradeoffs with prescription drugs that could be dangerous to their health, according to a survey by Consumer Reports.

Consumer Reports, prescription drug poll, prescription drug survey, prescription medication, prescription drug, health care costs, generic drugs, medication costs, generic substitute, John Santa, Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center, Lisa Gill, Consumer Reports Health, prescription drug prices

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'Risky trade-offs' in Rx use, Consumer Reports poll finds

September 27th, 2011

YONKERS, N.Y. – Financially pressured Americans are making tradeoffs with prescription drugs that could be dangerous to their health, according to a survey by Consumer Reports.

The consumer advocacy firm said Tuesday that its annual prescription drug poll found that 48% of Americans said they would cut health care costs, for example, by putting off a doctor's visit or a medical procedure, declining tests, or ordering cheaper drugs from outside the country — an increase of 9 percentage points since 2010.  

The survey, which polled more than 1,200 U.S. adults currently taking a prescription medication, also found that to save money, 28% of respondents have resorted to potentially dangerous actions. Those include skipping filling a prescription (16%), taking an expired medication (13%) or skipping a scheduled dosage without asking a doctor or pharmacist (12%). Larger numbers (35%) of low-income Americans took these risky steps, the study found.

Another key finding was that doctors could be doing more to help patients mitigate medication costs. The study revealed that not all doctors are routinely prescribing generic drugs, with 41% of respondents saying their physician only sometimes or never recommends a generic.

"When you walk into your doctor's office, you are a patient, first and foremost. But you are also a consumer, and your doctor should be tuned into this, especially during these tough times," John Santa, M.D., director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center, said in a statement.

Doctors are only slightly more likely to recommend a generic substitute for a brand-name medicine than not. Fifty-four percent of those polled said their physician "always" (26%) or "usually" (28%) suggests generics, versus 41% who said "sometimes" or "never."

Although generics account for most of the prescriptions among those taking drugs regularly, 39% of respondents reported a concern or misconception about these medications. For instance, despite the high cost of prescription drugs, few doctors raise the issue of cost in meetings with patients. Only 5% of patients found out the cost of a prescription drug during a doctor visit, while 64% first learned about cost when picking up their medicine at the pharmacy.

Also of note: The study showed that the number of Americans taking a medication who said that information about whether a doctor accepts money or gifts from drug companies is valuable has risen by nine percentage points since 2010 to 43% today.

Of those polled, 88% have misgivings about the influence of the pharmaceutical industry on the prescribing habits of their doctors. Nearly three-quarters (72%) agreed completely or somewhat that pharmaceutical companies have too much influence on the drugs that physicians prescribe, and 52% agreed that doctors are too eager to prescribe a drug rather than consider alternate methods of managing a condition. What's more, 49% agreed that the drugs doctors prescribe are influenced by gifts from pharmaceutical companies.

Other key findings in the prescription drug survey included the following:

• 49% of Americans currently take a prescription drug, and of those the average number regularly taken is 4.5 medicines.

• Consumers earning less than $40,000 annually and those age 65 years and older take the greatest number of prescriptions (5.7 and 5.5 medicines, respectively).

• Monthly out-of-pocket spending for those who regularly take a prescription drug is $59, down $9 from two years ago. The decline appears to be driven by the increasing use of generics in response to household budget pressures.

"Our polling suggests that the burden of prescription drug prices is coming down as our medicine cabinets are more frequently filled with generic drugs," stated Lisa Gill, prescription drug editor for Consumer Reports Health. "But the costs of multiple prescriptions has proved to be onerous for many Americans, so much so that some consumers are making unhealthy tradeoffs."