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20 percent of prescription drug users struggle with costs, survey says



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About three-quarters of Americans say the cost of prescription drugs is unreasonable, according to a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

And if you've been following the news around drug costs, I bet you'll agree. As we've reported here, some specialty drugs, such as those that treat Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS, are so expensive that people can reach their annual out-of-pocket maximum set by the Affordable Care Act - $6,600 – in as little as a month.

Unreasonable costs

The Kaiser survey says those high costs are leaving a lasting impact on peoples' wallets: Nationwide, about 20 percent of people who take prescription drugs say it's hard to pay for them. That number rises to about one-third among lower-income people.

The survey also examines what people do when they struggle to afford their medication. Of those taking prescription drugs, one-quarter say they or a family member didn't fill a prescription in the past year because of its cost. Nearly one in five say they or a relative cut pills in half, or skipped doses, to make the medicine last longer.

I didn't have to look far to find someone in this boat: As I was reading the Kaiser study, Becca Murray, an actor and administrative assistant at KPCC, e-mailed me to share her own story with wild prescription drug costs.

Pills only in a 'pinch'

For about a year and a half, Murray, 33, had taken Nuvigil to treat a sleep disorder. She has idiopathic hypersomnia, which causes her to be excessively sleepy during the day, and the drug kept her awake. She'd paid a range of prices for the drug, but it was never more than $75 for a month's supply.

Murray, who has health insurance through KPCC, switched to a high-deductible health plan this year. When she did, she says she was told the monthly cost of the drug might double, to around $150. But when her new plan took effect, the drug actually cost her an unaffordable $550 per monthly prescription. 

Murray hasn't filled the prescription since the cost increased in January. She says that has forced her to take lunchtime naps in her car most days. When she's in "an absolute pinch" and can't nap, she says she'll take half a pill from the leftovers she squirreled away last year. Murray says she has no more than 20 pills left.

For now, Murray's not betting on her prescription becoming more affordable. Rather, she's dealing with other medical issues and says that as her overall health improves, she hopes she won't need the Nuvigil anymore.

"For now, I’m really focusing on listening to my body," she says. "That means taking naps when I’m tired and really managing my stress the rest of the time."

Impatient readers, have you had an experience with unreasonable drug costs? Share your story in the comments section below or e-mail me at Impatient@scpr.org.