The High Cost of Kids' Asthma


Pharmacists can help parents cope with the challenges of managing childhood asthma, including the rising cost of medications.

Pharmacists can help parents cope with the challenges of managing childhood asthma, including the rising cost of medications.

The back-to-school season is stressful for everyone, but parents of kids with asthma face a unique set of challenges. In addition to scheduling last-minute checkups, making sure new teachers are up to speed on their child’s condition, and preparing “just-in-case” emergency plans, a new study shows parents whose children have asthma may also be struggling with sky-high treatment costs.

According to findings released in July by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, annual drug expenses for children with asthma have more than doubled over the past decade. Although the prevalence of childhood asthma is increasing less sharply than it was in the mid-1990s, the new numbers show more children are being treated for the disease, and at much higher costs.

The findings are based on data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS), which studies the health services used by Americans, how frequently they are used, how much they cost, and how they are paid. The researchers looked at statistics on childhood asthma treatment during 2 distinct time periods—1997 to 1998 and 2007 to 2008.

Their comparison revealed the following key points (dollar amounts for previous years have been adjusted to reflect inflation):

  • The average annual percentage of American children treated for asthma increased from 4.7% to 6.1%.
  • Average annual prescription drug expenses for a child with asthma more than doubled, from $349 to $838.
  • Children ages 5 to 11 were more likely to be treated for asthma than adolescents ages 12 to 17.
  • Overall average annual health care expenses for a child with asthma increased 37%, from $1,827 to $2,503.
  • Low-income families are disproportionately affected by increases in prescription drug and overall health care expenses.

The expenditures listed in MEPS include both payments covered by insurance and those made out-of-pocket in exchange for care from physicians, hospitals, and other providers. Although health insurance provides some cushion against price hikes, even out-of-pocket payments can be a challenge for lower-income families. Children without any health insurance are most vulnerable to treatment gaps as a result of rising prescription costs.

Keeping up with prescriptions is critical, not only to keep children with asthma healthy, but to enable them to be productive at school, says the American Lung Association. According to ALA, asthma results in more than 14 million missed school days each year. “Don’t let the cost of medicines be the reason that your child doesn’t get the necessary treatment to control their asthma,” urged the group in its Back to School With Asthma checklist.

Pharmacists can help parents struggling with the financial burden of childhood asthma by recommending prescription assistance programs. The Partnership for Prescription Assistance, Rx Outreach, and Patient Services Incorporated are just a few of the options ALA recommends; more are offered through pharmaceutical companies. Needymeds, RxAssist, and the Healthwell Foundation are other organizations that can help with medication costs.

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