Cost-related Medication Underuse: Do Patients with Chronic Illnesses Tell their Doctors?

BACKGROUND: Although many chronically ill patients underuse prescription medications because of cost concerns, we know little about their discussions with clinicians about this issue.

METHODS: Nationwide survey of 660 older adults with chronic illnesses who reported underusing medication in the prior year because of cost. We assessed whether patients discussed cost-related medication underuse with clinicians, reasons that some patients did not talk with clinicians about this problem, how clinicians responded when this issue was raised, and how helpful patients perceived clinicians to be.

RESULTS: Two thirds of respondents never told a clinician in advance that they planned to underuse medication because of the cost, and 35% never discussed the issue at all. Of those who did not tell a clinician, 66% reported that nobody asked them about their ability to pay for prescriptions and 58% reported that they did not think providers could help them. When patients talked with clinicians about medication costs, 72% found those conversations helpful. However, 31% reported that their medications were never changed to a generic or less expensive alternative, and few patients were given other forms of assistance such as information about programs that help pay drug costs (30%) or where to purchase less expensive medication (28%). Patients were most likely to find clinicians helpful if clinicians provided free samples, asked about problems paying for prescriptions, and offered advice about how to pay for patients' current regimens.

CONCLUSIONS: About one third of chronically ill adults who underuse prescription medication because of the cost never talk with clinicians in advance, and many never raise this issue at all. Clinicians should take a more proactive role in identifying and assisting patients who have problems paying for prescription drugs.