Cancer survivors more likely to skip drugs due to cost

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[September 06, 2017] By Shereen Lehman

Reuters Health - The percentage of U.S. adults under age 65 who skip essential prescription drugs because of price has declined, a five-year study found. But consistently, problems with financial access to medication were more common in cancer survivors.

“Spending on prescription drugs to treat cancer has been increasing in the United States, and many newer cancer drugs have annual price tags of $100,000 or more,” study co-author K. Robin Yabroff told Reuters Health in an email.

Patient cost-sharing has also been increasing in recent years, she noted. And there have been significant changes in financial hardship due to costs of prescription drugs between 2011 and 2015, said Yabroff, who is a researcher with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, DC.

Multiple studies have shown that cancer survivors are more likely to have high out-of-pocket spending for health care and be worried about their medical bills than those without a cancer history, said Yabroff.

“In this study, we wanted to examine changes in financial access to prescription drugs over time and whether any changes differed for cancer survivors,” she said.

As reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, online August 24, Yabroff’s team analyzed data on nearly 200,000 adults who participated in the National Health Interview Survey.

In 2010, almost 14% of cancer survivors ages 18 to 64 said they had forgone needed prescription drugs because of cost during the previous 12 months, compared to 11% of their peers without a history of cancer.

By 2015, those rates were down for both groups but were still higher for cancer survivors, at roughly 9%, than for those without a cancer history, at just under 7%.

In each of the six years studied, cancer survivors were more likely to report forgoing prescription drugs in the past year because of cost, Yabroff said.

Cancer survivors were also more likely to be older and have more chronic conditions than those without a cancer history, and both of these characteristics may be associated with greater need for prescription drugs, said Yabroff.

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But even after the researchers took age and chronic medical problems into account, cancer survivors were still more likely to report limited financial access to prescription medications, she said.

For adults 65 or older, a cancer history did not seem to affect financial access to medications. The vast majority of U.S. adults in that age group, however, are insured with Medicare, which may minimize barriers to financial access to prescription drugs, Yabroff added.

Going forward, Yabroff said, it will be important to study why cancer survivors are more likely to forgo prescription drugs because of cost and whether skipping those drugs is associated with more emergency room visits or potentially avoidable hospitalizations.

“A number of factors will likely play a role in financial access to prescription drugs in the future, including economic trends, the price of prescription drugs, level of patient cost-sharing, and type of health insurance coverage. It will be important to continue to evaluate trends in financial access to prescription drugs,” she said.


J Natl Cancer Inst 2017.

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