5.3 million Medicare beneficiaries struggle to afford meds, study finds

About 3.5 million Americans ages 65 and older and 1.8 million Medicare beneficiaries younger than 65 had difficulty affording their medications in 2019, according to a report released Jan. 19 by the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation's Office of Health Policy.

The report examined Medicare beneficiaries' responses in the 2019 National Health Interview Survey. The researchers did not examine the 2020 survey because of "concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic may have affected both drug utilization and patterns of survey responses."

Among adults 65 and older, Black and Latino Medicare beneficiaries in 2019 reported difficulty affording prescription medications at rates about 1.5 to 2 times higher than white beneficiaries. The report also found that women, beneficiaries with lower incomes and beneficiaries with chronic conditions — including diabetes, asthma and COPD — had higher rates of difficulty affording their prescriptions than other groups.

Medicare beneficiaries younger than 65 had much higher rates of difficulty affording their prescriptions than did adults older than 65, according to the report. Nearly 23 percent of beneficiaries younger than 65 had difficulty, compared with 6.6 percent of beneficiaries older than 65.

The report said potential ways to improve Medicare's prescription affordability include direct price negotiations to reduce medication costs, limitations on price increases over time, changing the Medicare Part D benefit to decrease patient cost-sharing and cap beneficiaries' out-of-pocket spending, and applying Part D pharmacy price concessions at the point of sale.

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