Nearly Half of Consumers Chose Other Expenses Over Buying Medicine

Survey shows many skipping prescriptions to pay for groceries, gas
Prescription pills on a U.S. one hundred dollar bill

Medication can be the key to managing an illness, and in some cases, it can make the difference between life and death. Yet a new survey suggests many Americans are sacrificing their prescription medicines in order to pay for their other basic needs.

Online savings platform RetailMeNot and market research firm Kelton Global surveyed 1,059 adults to see how prescription costs are impacting consumers. What they learned is that many people struggle to manage prescription costs along with their day-to-day financial obligations. In fact, 47% have chosen not to fill a prescription in order to pay other expenses.

In most cases, respondents who chose not to fill their prescriptions used the money for other basic household needs. For example, 74% used that money to pay for groceries, while 50% said they had used money that would have gone toward prescriptions for gas.

However, some respondents admitted to using money meant for their medicine costs to buy items that might not have been as necessary. Approximately a quarter — 26% — said they’d spent money on clothes rather than pay for a prescription, and 22% said they had paid for cable and Wi-Fi with the money that would have been used to purchase medication.

Sadly, there can be heavy consequences for failing to take prescribed medications. Among respondents, 23% said a medical condition had gotten worse as a result of their failing to buy a prescription they needed.

In addition to skipping out on buying medications, some consumers are finding other ways to cut their medication costs. Twenty percent said they take smaller doses so they can stretch the prescription out between refills. Meanwhile, 16% said they have sought out homeopathic treatments as an alternative to prescribed medication, and 5% have even traveled to another country in order to buy medicine at a lower price.

While in some cases, medications may simply be unaffordable for consumers, there are likely instances where better planning could have made a difference. The survey found that more than half of respondents — 53% — do little or no planning for potential medical expenses. But even if someone wanted to budget for potential prescription costs, there may be challenges: as 61% of respondents said it was hard to find information on the costs of different medications.

Skyrocketing drug prices have been a focus for Congress recently, and many Americans have voiced support for government intervention to help keep prescription costs down. Yet, just 14% of respondents said the government is doing a good job regulating prices.

A recent study by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation underscored how consumers would like for the government to get involved. For example, it found that 86% of Americans would support the government negotiating with drug companies to get prescription prices down for those who have Medicare, and 88% would want the government to require drug companies to put list prices of medications in all advertisements.

Healthcare costs can deal a major blow to your budget. But while you may not be able to predict some of the costs you’ll incur in the future, you can compare quotes for different health insurance plans to determine how much you’d have to pay for prescriptions and other services. You should also make sure you understand how your policy works, as well as ways you’ll be expected to share the costs with your insurance company through copays and coinsurance.

Tamara E. Holmes

Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, DC-based writer who covers personal finance, entrepreneurship and careers.

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