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Squeezed by economy, Americans cut health care

BY Michael Johnsen

MENLO PARK, Calif. —Times are tough, and, in a most disturbing sign for retail pharmacy executives, people are taking it out on their health.

Pinched by the failing economy, 47 percent of Americans said they are taking some measure to cut back on their healthcare spending, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation consumer poll. That’s up from 42 percent in April, when people reported they were pulling back on healthcare expenditures, including prescription medicines and doctor visits, due to financial difficulties.

According to the most recent results, about 1-in-3 consumers said their family has had problems paying medical bills in the past year, up from about 1-in-4 two years ago.

The state of the economy is bad enough for the average American. But for many Medicare Part D beneficiaries—particularly those with such chronic conditions as Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and depression—the confluence of negative events, from higher energy to grocery bills, is hitting them just as the doughnut hole in their prescription drug coverage closes up around them. According to a 2007 Kaiser study, 25 percent of Part D enrollees who filled a prescription at all last year, hit the coverage gap at some point. People with chronic conditions hit the gap much sooner in the year, according to the study.

According to the most recent Kaiser poll, 1-in-5 Americans are splitting pills or skipping doses. As many as 27 percent aren’t even filling those prescriptions in the first place.

Results from another survey released last month from Medco Health suggested that it’s not just a problem for seniors. Nearly 70 percent of young adults age 25 to 34 claim the economic downturn of the last 12 months has made it somewhat or significantly more difficult to pay for healthcare expenses.

“All of those things…are happening,” Ted Epperly, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, told Drug Store News, and its cutting deeper than just the working poor, he said. Patients who would fall into lower- and middle-income status are making similar cost-cutting decisions.

The pill stretching is certainly contributing to a slowdown in prescription-generated revenue growth. According to IMS Health, the economy definitely has been a contributing factor. IMS estimated the downturn will effectively reduce growth in the United States by two to three percentage points.

According to Epperly, there also has been a decline in the number of doctor visits made, at least anecdotally, and there are plenty of patients who are stretching their 30-day prescription into 60 days—or worse, a 90-day prescription into six months. “With the elderly, Medicare patients with fixed incomes, etc., they’re trying to make ends meet by spacing out their medications,” Epperly said. “Conversely, younger patients are foregoing their prescriptions altogether, especially as they are more likely to be prescribed a medicine to treat an acute condition.”

All that pill-stretcing becomes particularly alarming in the case of patients with chronic conditions. Noncompliance among those prescribed maintenance medicines translates into deteriorating health conditions. “For the antihypertensives or the antihyperlipidemic medications, probably no [dire consequences] over the short term, but over time, it’s going to catch up with them,” Epperly said. “[Medicines] like anticoagulants or diabetes-control medicines, which have a much faster impact if those are stopped, [patients] are going to experience the potential catastrophic effect,” Epperly noted. “It’s not a matter of ‘if’ for those patients, it’s a matter of ‘when.’ We’ve had patients who’ve foregone insulin. As you can imagine, it’s a matter of days before they’re having major problems from that decision.”

“It’s kind of like the Fram oil filter commercial where the guy says, ‘You can pay me now or you can pay me later.’ Unfortunately with a lot of medicine, that’s the case,” Epperly said.

Pharmacy actually may hold a grassroots solution to harder-felt healthcare costs in light of the down economy; in addition to migrating cash-strapped patients toward prescription-drug assistance programs, many pharmacists are helping to reduce prescription drug costs for their patients by advocating generic alternatives.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Douglas Hoey, senior vice president and chief operating officer for the National Community Pharmacy Association, said, quoting the old Benjamin Franklin-ism. “Pharmacists have to deliver on that message at this time. That is one thing that is an important service that community pharmacists do—talk with patients,” he said.

When patients approach pharmacists with concerns on how to pay for the drugs, there oftentimes is something that can be done, Hoey said. Getting creative with figuring out alternative medications or different ways of taking a medicine.

“We’ve found that physicians were particularly receptive to calling on a patient’s behalf and giving suggestions on how that patient could save money, especially if it was a matter of a patient either not taking that medication at all or taking something to address their condition,” he said.

At the community pharmacy level, another approach NCPA members are taking is to extend prescription credit to their patients through store accounts. “About 90 percent of the community pharmacies offer store charge accounts,” Hoey said. According to NCPA research, those store charge accounts make up, on average, 8 percent of a store’s prescription volume, Hoey said, suggesting that pharmacy owner/operators extend that courtesy to their best customers.

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Alimentary Health signs licensing agreement with P&G Pet Care

BY DSN STAFF

CORK, Ireland Alimentary Health on Wednesday announced that it has signed a worldwide licensing agreement with P&G Pet Care, makers of two of the worlds leading companion animal pet care products, Iams and Eukanuba.

Under the licensing agreement, Alimentary Health’s and P&G’s proprietary pet care probiotics will be used in P&G Pet Care’s nutritional supplement products. The global market for companion animal pet care products was estimated to be over $40 billion in 2007. Alimentary Health will receive an undisclosed royalty on sales of all products containing the pet care probiotics.

In 2001, Alimentary Health partnered with P&G to develop safe and effective probiotic products for gastrointestinal indications. In 2007, P&G Health Care started using Alimentary Health’s natural probiotic strain Bifidobacterium Infantis 35624, in Align in the US. Align is a daily probiotic supplement that helps build and maintain a strong and healthy digestive system.

“Today’s announcement comes as a result of our continued successful collaboration with P&G,” Barry Kiely, chief executive officer of Alimentary Health, said. “We are please that our ongoing efforts have once again resulted in Alimentary Health’s technology making it to the marketplace. This agreement is a result of a successful research and development program between the two companies and it brings us closer to fulfilling our vision of becoming the worldwide leader in the research, discovery and clinical development of probiotics. We are proud of our long standing association with such a leading multi-national company.”

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Kmart holds GoldK Day health services, screening day for seniors

BY Antoinette Alexander

HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. Kmart, a wholly owned subsidiary of Sears Holding Corp., has announced that its pharmacy division will hold the annual GoldK Day on Nov. 18 for seniors.

“Kmart wants to remind seniors that we care about their health and GoldK Day is a way for our pharmacists to give back to these important customers by not only offering free screenings, but assistance with Medicare health plan selection and information about disease states, which can help seniors make better decisions about their healthcare,” Mark Doerr, vice president of Kmart pharmacy, said.

The activities planned for the event, to be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at all 1,100 Kmart pharmacy locations, include free blood pressure screenings, free memory screenings, Medicare health plan selection assistance and more.

No appointments are necessary. For more information, customers can all 800-866-0086 or visit www.kmart.com/pharmacy.

The initiatives are tied to the efforts of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America’s National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, the annual initiative aimed at promoting early detection of memory problems and appropriate intervention.

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