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Increased Co-Pays Lead to Few People Taking Prescription Drugs

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If you have health insurance, then your premiums and co-payments have probably gone up. This is especially true with prescription drug benefits. But new findings show a real downside to this practice. Lynn Davis regularly comes to this pharmacy to pick up her medication for chronic depression. When her co-pay went up, she wasn't happy.

Lynn Davis, Needs Medication for Depression: "I experimented with not taking it when the co-pay went up and then I found that I needed to, so I just do that, just pay it."

According to a new study in the journal of the American Medical Association, higher co-pays lead many people to take less medication, or quit taking it all together.

California researchers authored the study, along with the pharmaceutical company Merck.

They studied four years of data on half-a-million employed, privately insured Americans, ages 18 to 64. When pharmacy co-pays doubled, the use of crucial medications took a dive.

Dana P. Goldman, P.h.D., Economist & Researcher: "We see the largest reductions in use for drugs that treat allergies, arthritis or other joint pain, primarily drugs that are treating symptoms."

Use of such prescription drugs was almost cut in half by higher co-pays, even when the increase meant as little as five dollars.

Patients may turn to over-the-counter medications, like antihistamines or ibuprofen, to treat those symptoms instead of using prescription drugs.

But patients also cut back on prescription drugs used to treat diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma and depression.

Researchers saw more than 25-percent decrease in these medications as co-pays went up.

Dana P. Goldman, P.h.D., Economist & Researcher: "We worry about these populations a lot more because not taking these medications may mean that down the road they'll have more health problems."

That's Lynn Davis's concern as well.

Lynn Davis, Needs Medication for Depression: "I think it's important to maintain my health."

So she'll keep making trips to the pharmacy and paying the higher co-pay for her medication.


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