Study: Senior's Drug Costs Soar

In the past eight years, Americans age 65 and older have watched their prescription drug costs double, with prices expected to more than double again in the next 10 years, a health care advocacy group said.

Without prescription drug coverage by Medicare, fewer seniors will be able to afford the dozens of prescriptions they must fill each year, said Families USA, which lobbies for universal health coverage.

A study commissioned by the group and released today said Americans 65 and older pay an average of $1,205 a year for prescriptions — up from $559 in 1992 — and will shell out $2,810 apiece by 2010.

Prescription drugs now account for about 10 percent of seniors’ health costs — and will likely rise to 13.3 percent in 2010, the report said.

Older Americans account for only 13 percent of the nation’s population but pay 42 cents of every dollar spent on prescription drugs, it said. They also pay more per pill because their purchases account for only 34 percent of total prescriptions.

“When they go to the pharmacy, they pay higher prices for their drugs than anyone, because there’s no one bargaining on their behalf,” said Ron Pollack, Families USA executive director.

Almost 30 Prescriptions Annually

The study said the average senior’s cost per prescription has risen dramatically, from $28.50 in 1992 to $42.30 now, and is projected to jump to $72.94 in 2010.

What’s worse, Pollack said, seniors also are buying more prescriptions than ever.

He said the elderly got by on about 20 prescriptions per year in 1992. Now they buy about 29 annually, and are expected to buy about 39 by 2010.

The study was based on data gathered by Medicare, the federal health plan for the aged and disabled. Projections for future costs were developed by the PRIME Institute, a consulting group at the University of Minnesota.

Families USA is urging lawmakers to expand Medicare to cover prescription drugs. It hopes the move will provide fuller drug coverage for low-income Americans while giving the government more bargaining power to force drug manufacturers to lower their prices.

President Clinton has urged Congress to strengthen and modernize Medicare with a voluntary prescription drug benefit to all 39 million Medicare beneficiaries regardless of income.

Republican congressional leaders say the drug coverage should be reserved for the most financially needy. Their plan calls for private health plans to offer drug benefits and government subsidies to pay drug costs for the neediest seniors.

The administration contends that would leave out 6 million Medicare beneficiaries with incomes above the poverty line.

Increased Effectiveness

Alan F. Holmer, president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, said much of the increase in seniors’ drug spending is driven by advanced drugs that are more effective.

“That’s good news for patients, for whom medicines are the most cost-effective form of health care,” he said. “They keep patients out of the hospital, off the surgery table, on the job and in the home.”

PhRMA spokesman Jeffrey L. Trewhitt said the report’s figures belie the hidden benefits of advanced drugs. New cardiac medications, for instance, may cost an elderly patient $1,200 annually, but far less than a $42,000 heart operation.

PhRMA supports expansion of drug coverage through private-sector insurance. Judith H. Bello, the group’s executive vice president, told Congress in June that lawmakers should allow free-market competition and consumer choice to contain costs.

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