KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Recession Pushes Cost Of Medicines Up, Pharmacists Lobby For Reform Role

"Even with the Medicare drug benefit, even with the prevalence of low-cost generics, even with loss-leader discounting by big chains, many Americans still find themselves unable to afford the prescription medications that manage their life-threatening conditions," The New York Times reports. In some areas, "the recession has heightened the struggle. National surveys consistently find that as many as a third of respondents say they are not complying with prescriptions because of cost, up from about a fourth three years ago."

Pharmacists at Almond's Drug Store in Rocky Mount, N.C, a community where "unemployment has doubled to 14 percent in a year," found that their customers were unable to afford their full list of prescriptions and "about eight months ago, they stopped automatically preparing refills for regular customers because they found that more than half were not being collected and had to be restocked." Customers have to "weigh not taking maintenance medications against more immediate needs like shelter and food," even when the medications are essential to their health. "Dr. John T. Avent, a physician at a low-income clinic near Almand's, estimated that at least 80 percent of his patients were not taking prescribed medicines" (Sack, 6/3).

The Chicago Tribune reports that Greg Wasson, CEO of Walgreen's Co. is lobbying for pharmacists to take on "a greater role for President Barack Obama should the White House and Congress come together to expand health-insurance coverage to the nation's uninsured." Walgreens, the latest pharmacy chain in the U.S., employs more than 25,000 pharmacists. Wasson "sees his company's efforts go beyond just filling prescriptions as part of a solution he calls medication therapy management." "By helping patients stick to taking their medications and making better and more cost-effective choices, Wasson believes the country's pharmacists could help save billions of dollars in medical-care costs." To do this, he argues that "pharmacies would need to be paid more" to account for "the time to provide patient consultations, plus wellness advice and other tips."

A 2007 pilot program in Chicago run by a business group showed that more pharmacy involvement could reduce the cost of diabetes care on a small scale "by more than $1,400 per employee in one year." "Pharmacists are the most accessible health-care provider and one of the most trusted professionals next to nurses," the Tribune quotes Wasson as saying (6/4).

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