The economic downturn has apparently hit even the “recession-proof” health care industry. Prescription drug use has been declining over the last year, and so far this year the growth rate of brand-name meds has been 1.5% – about half of what it had been in the last five years. Copays are rising, more people are living without health insurance, and more employers are switching to less expensive health insurance policies that place more of the burden of cost onto the patient. So in addition to paying more for food, gas, and everyday necessities, people are also finding themselves paying more for health care. In an effort to save money, nearly a quarter of Americans did not fill prescriptions this spring – and many more are skipping doses or cutting pills in half.
We’re noticing more and more of our Colorado clients requesting high deductible health insurance policies, with prescriptions covered only once the deductible is met. Does this mean that they are more likely to pass on meds? Probably it means that they’ll think twice before going to the doctor or filling a prescription. When an employer sponsored health insurance policy is paying for everything, people are more likely to just go to the doctor when they don’t feel well, and fill whatever prescription they are given. But when you’re paying for it yourself, it’s not so simple.
I think it’s well established that we’re an over-medicated nation. Overuse of health care contributes in huge part to the high prices we pay compared with many other countries. So if reduced health insurance benefits make people think twice before going to the doctor or getting a prescription for every little ailment… that’s a good thing. Plenty of the problems for which people seek treatment are actually self-remitting – but our habit of going to the doctor whenever we don’t feel well is pretty strongly ingrained, and might take a while to break.
Of course we don’t want people with serious ailment foregoing treatment, and unfortunately the economic woes are indiscriminent. Everyone is paying more for health care these days. And for all of life’s other necessities. While it might make life miserable to have to skip a seasonal allergy prescription, it could make life short if you have to stop taking a cancer drug because you can’t afford it. So for all of us who love to debate the ins and outs of completely private health insurance versus government-run universal health care – here’s a possibility for compromise. What if pharmacists were to divide prescriptions into two categories – life and limb saving in one, and life-improving in the other. Herceptin in category A, Viagra in category B. Then we could set up a government re-insurance program to make sure that nobody has to skip a life-saving medication because of a lack of money or health insurance.
Overall, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing that we’re using less health care these days. But we need to have some sort of safeguard in place to make sure that people aren’t skipping life-saving care when their copays and deductibles go up. And I think that a compromise between private and public health insurance would be perfect in this sort of situation.