“It seems that everyone’s talking about the high costs of drugs—to friends, with family, on social media—but where those conversations are not happening often enough is at the doctor’s office.” So began this important article that appeared in the pages of Consumer Reports. Although the article was written some time back, it reflects a situation that is growing ever more critical today: doctors are not doing enough to educate their patients about the costs of the drugs they prescribe. What’s more, with drug costs skyrocketing, a growing number of seniors are feeling the financial pinch, unable to afford their medications. Where do they turn for help? Fortunately we’ve found some potentially helpful answers.
Doctors Aren’t Talking to Patients about Drug Costs
In 2016 Consumer Reports conducted a telephone survey of more than 2,000 adults who were taking prescribed medications. The shocking finding from the survey was that only about 6 percent of patients found out the cost of a new medication during their visit with the prescribing doctor. By contrast, almost two-thirds of respondents said “they didn’t learn the price of the drug until they were standing at the pharmacy counter,” in the words of the article, adding, “considering that doctors prescribed an estimated 4.4 billion drugs last year, not talking about a patient’s ability to pay can be an expensive oversight.”
The irony, says the Consumer Reports feature, is that most doctors (about 80 percent) say they are concerned about their patients’ ability to afford prescription drugs, yet these same physicians only claim to discuss drug costs with about one-quarter of their patients. In fact, says the article, in a large majority of the cases in which patients and doctors discussed prescription prices, it was the patient, and not the doctor, who initiated the conversation. Consumer Reports explains this reluctance: doctors care more about “efficacy and safety than affordability.” Doctors also say “they can’t easily access cost information for each patient and don’t have time to find it.”
Out-of-Control Costs are a Top Priority
However, according to this 2016 article on the American Medical Association’s website, the medical community is finally sounding the alarm on high drug costs. “Brand name drug prices in the U.S. have spiked 98.2 percent since 2011,” said the AMA. “For patients with commercial health insurance, out-of-pocket costs for brand prescriptions have increased by more than 25 percent since 2010.” Many Americans, including many physicians, blame higher drug costs for the rise in health care premiums and say that dealing with out-of-control prescription costs should be one of the nation’s top health care priorities.
Where to Turn for Rx Assistance
In researching this article, which we first ran on our AgingOptions blog in late 2017, we discovered this very helpful and timely article just published on the Kiplinger financial website. Written to help retirees find help to cover expensive drug costs, the article contains several links to groups and organizations that exist to assist seniors burdened by soaring prescription expenses. “Out-of-pocket expenses for prescriptions can do serious damage to your retirement income,” says Kiplinger. “For many older adults, prescription-drug co-payments and other medical expenses can come as a shock” because “they don’t realize how high their out-of-pocket medical costs can run.” If you need help with drug costs, the Kiplinger article lists these resources for you to try:
- NeedyMeds, a company that compiles resources to help seniors with drug expenses
- The Partnership for Prescription Assistance
- The Patient Advocate Foundation
- The HealthWell Foundation
The Patient is Also a Consumer
Here at AgingOptions, our advice to patients – especially seniors – is that you have to start thinking and acting like a consumer when it comes to your health care. Experience shows that older patients have a greater tendency than younger ones to take doctors at their word and never ask challenging questions. We say the time for that kind of acquiescence is long past. With costs rising and doctors spending less and less time with their patients, you may have to demand answers from your medical practitioners – and if those answers aren’t forthcoming it might be time to switch doctors. If you are a senior we highly recommend hiring a geriatrician as your primary health care provider, since only these geriatric physicians are properly trained to deal with the unique health care needs of older patients. Most geriatricians we know about will take the time to explain their recommendations to you, and they’ll often be more inclined to take you off of certain prescriptions than to keep adding more pills to your medical regimen. Contact us here at AgingOptions and we will refer you to a geriatrician in your area.
Still, planning adequately for retirement means much more than making sure you have the right health insurance or the right doctor. Don’t miss the bigger picture: every facet of your retirement is important, and it’s essential that your finances, legal protection, housing choices, medical coverage and family communication all work together seamlessly. There’s one comprehensive approach to retirement planning that accomplishes this strategic integration, and that’s an AgingOptions LifePlan. We invite you to come spend a few hours with us and find out more, at a free LifePlanning Seminar with Rajiv Nagaich. These popular events take place at locations throughout the Puget Sound area, and there’s likely to be one coming up that’s convenient for you. For details and online registration, click here – or call us for assistance during the week.
Retirement planning doesn’t have to be tedious, complex and disjointed. Discover the power of comprehensive retirement planning with a LifePlan from AgingOptions.
(originally reported at www.consumerreports.org)