According to a new report from IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, the nation’s total spending on prescription medications dropped from $329.2 billion in 2011 to $325.8 billion last year. Similarly, the average amount that each American spent on their medications in 2012 fell to $898, representing a decline of $33. This is the first time the IMS has recorded a drop in drug spending in the 58 years that the institute has been monitoring the data.
Part of the decline is due to more cheaper, generics drugs entering the market, a positive trend that helps Americans better afford their medication and ultimately lowers health costs. But that’s not the whole story. According to the IMS’ director of research, Michael Kleinrock, many Americans are skipping out on their prescriptions because they’re struggling to afford all of their medical costs, and are therefore being forced to ration their health care:
IMS found affordability of health care remains a big problem for many Americans, with growing out-of-pocket costs forcing people to go without needed doctor visits, medicines and other treatments.
For some, that was because they lost jobs or homes during the worst recession in decades. But higher costs also are hitting many employed people who have health insurance.
Employers have been raising health costs for their workers well above the inflation rate, through higher copayments, premiums and deductibles. Many commercial insurance plans now have annual deductibles — the amount a patient must pay before insurance kicks in — that exceed $1,000, Kleinrock said. [...]
“Even patients with insurance are feeling the pinch and have been reducing their use of health care,” Kleinrock said.
IMS’ findings are consistent with other studies that have found that low-income Americans are forgoing their medication because they can’t afford it. One out of every five Americans has asked their doctor to prescribe a cheaper medication in order to lower their prescription costs — and, compared to wealthier people, poorer patients are more than twice as likely to avoid taking their medication as directed in order to save money.
Of course, as Americans continue to struggle to afford their prescription drugs, Big Pharma is reaping the benefits. The 11 largest drug companies’ profits have been soaring for the past eight years, and they raked in almost $85 billion in 2012.
Unfortunately, profiting at the expense of workers isn’t exclusive to Big Pharma. As Kleinrock notes, even the Americans who currently have insurance are now being forced to cut back on their care, since their employers continue to shift more of their health care costs onto them. Across the country, employees’ contributions to their health insurance plans have skyrocketed at the same time as those workers’ wages have stagnated. That’s especially true for the low-wage workers who are employed by large chain companies in the restaurant industry, whose CEOs have repeatedly complained about the cost of providing adequate health benefits under Obamacare — and keep attempting to find unscrupulous ways to circumvent the health reform law.