Sunday, May 12, 2013

Many In The U.S. Cannot Afford Their Meds

It would be nice to think that as more of Obamacare comes on-line, Americans would be able to access more medical care and get better results from that care. Unfortunately it is not working out that way. The latest figures show that more and more Americans are doing without the medications prescribed for them by a doctor, because they cannot afford to buy those medications.

The latest figures from Healthcare Informatics show that spending for drugs (prescription medications) in the United States dropped from $329.2 billion in 2011 to about $325.8 billion (a drop of $3.4 billion dollars). In per capita terms, the spending by Americans dropped from $931 per person in 2011 to $898 per person in 2012.

It would be nice to think that this drop in spending was due either to a drop in population or a healthier society -- but neither is true. The population has increased, and the senior population has increased (the segment of the population needing the most drugs) -- and nothing has changed to make the population at large any healthier.

A small portion of the reduction may be due to more drugs going generic (thus becoming cheaper to purchase). But the bulk of the spending reduction is due to something far worse -- people are trying to do without their medications because they simply cannot afford to buy them. Sadly, this is something that will make the overall health of the general population even worse over time (as unmedicated conditions grow worse).

And those people unable to afford their needed medications are not just the poor. Many of them have health insurance. The problem is that those health insurance policies have very high deductibles (of $1000 or more). As the premiums for health insurance rise, employers that provide the insurance for their employees are opting for cheaper policies with high deductibles and those who must buy their own policies are opting for the same to keep their premiums in an affordable range. These policies will still cover huge expenses like hospitalization, but leave the policy-holders out in the cold for their daily medications.

And this is not a problem that the full implementation of Obamacare will solve. In fact, it will probably grow worse, as more companies opt for high-deductible polices for their employees and insurance companies offer high-deductible policies in the state exchanges to make their premiums more competitive. And as the number of high-deductible policies grow, so will the number of Americans who cannot afford their medications.

This is just one more reason why the country should have gone to a government-run single-payer insurance program (like Medicare for everyone), which would cover preventative care, medications, and hospitalization. The countries that do have a single-payer system don't have the problem of citizens being unable to afford their medications (because the deductibles, if any at all, are kept at a much more reasonable level). Obamcare was a valiant effort that solved a few of the problems inherent in our broken health care system -- but it didn't go nearly far enough to really fix the system.

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