A new study predicts more than 1.1 million deaths among Medicare patients over the coming decade because they cannot afford prescription medications, according to a press release from the West Health Policy Center.

Between 2007 and 2018, the authors said that list prices for branded pharmaceutical products increased by 159% with few signs of slowing. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, spending on prescription drugs will grow faster than any other major medical good or service over the next several years.

Under Medicare, beneficiaries pay 25% of the cost of generic and brand-name medications. For patients with multiple chronic conditions, however, this could add up to thousands of dollars a year in out-of-pocket costs, according to the authors.

Investigators developed a 10-year model representative of the majority of Medicare beneficiaries with chronic conditions. The model allowed them to estimate how different levels of price reductions would lower the number of premature deaths and decrease Medicare spending on a sliding scale and can be found on the Council for Informed Drug Spending Analysis website.

According to the study authors, if current drug pricing trends continue, cost-related non-adherence to therapy will result in the premature deaths of 112,000 Medicare beneficiaries per year, overtaking diabetes, influenza, pneumonia, and kidney disease as a leading cause of death in the United States. Even more patients will suffer worsening health conditions and increased medical expenses that will cost Medicare an additional $177.4 billion by 2030.

“One of the biggest contributors to poor health, hospital admissions, higher health care costs, and preventable death is patients failing to take their medications as prescribed,” said Timothy Lash, MBA, president of the West Health Policy Center, in a press release. “Cost-related nonadherence is a significant and growing issue that is direct result of runaway drug prices and a failure to implement policies and regulations that make drugs more affordable.”

The investigators also modeled what would happen if Medicare was allowed to bring down drug prices by directly negotiating with drug companies, as described in the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act, passed by the US House of Representatives in 2019. They found that Medicare negotiation could result in 94,000 fewer deaths annually and that the policy would reduce Medicare spending by $475.9 billion by 2030.

“The costs of doing nothing about high drug prices are too high, especially when policy changes such as allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices would result in saving millions of lives and billions of dollars,” said Sean Dickson, JD, director of health policy at West Health Policy Center, in a press release.

REFERENCE
More than 1.1 million deaths among Medicare recipients due to high cost of drugs [news release]. EurekAlert; November 19, 2020. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-11/whi-mt1111820.php Accessed December 4, 2020.