Did you know that annual medication costs per American average nearly $1,300? That’s more than any other country in the world. It’s not that Americans are taking more medications than their international peers, though; what sets the U.S. apart is its astronomical drug prices.
Just look at insulin, which has become the poster child for the high cost of prescription drugs. Approximately one-quarter of the more than 30 million Americans who have diabetes use insulin to control their symptoms and prevent complications. But this essential medication has become increasingly out of reach for Americans, who must shell out $98.70 for one unit of insulin (and $119 per unit if they want rapid-acting insulin). In contrast, one unit of insulin costs $12 in Canada and just $6.94 in Australia.
Unfortunately, insulin is not the only medication with an outrageous price tag. According to Harvard Medical School researchers, about half of the drugs launched over the past two years cost more than $150,000 annually. With 60% of American adults taking at least one prescription drug (and 25% taking four or more), it’s not hard to find folks impacted directly by the prohibitive prices of prescription drugs.
The Consequences of High Medication Costs
The ever-increasing price of prescription drugs has dangerous ripple effects, though the most dangerous consequence is medication nonadherence among already vulnerable patients.
According to a 2020 poll, about 44% of Americans said high prices had caused them to skip purchasing at least one prescription over the previous year. As many as 30% of people polled by KFF said they had either not filled a prescription, substituted an over-the-counter drug, split a pill in half, or skipped a dose of their medication to save money.
However, any short-term gains are negated by the long-term physical and financial repercussions of these decisions. For instance, medication nonadherence claims the life of an estimated 125,000 Americans every year and accounts for up to 69% of medication-related hospital admissions.
Even the anticipation of high medication costs can deter people from seeking important follow-up care: In one 2022 study, 47% of participants who were considered at high risk for lung cancer delayed the recommended follow-up care, with a median delay time of 91 days. Of those high-risk cases, 15% were ultimately diagnosed with lung cancer.
The high cost of prescription drugs has caused people to flout their doctors’ instructions, but many of these individuals end up in worse health and with more medical debt. So, what can we do about it?
How Employers Can Help Provide Affordable Medical Care
Employers are often the main source of health insurance for their employees. But in the current landscape, it’s no longer enough to provide a few plan options and let employees take things from there. Even with full health coverage, Americans still pay more out-of-pocket healthcare costs than people in other developed nations while experiencing worse health outcomes.
This directly impacts your workforce. When your employees can’t meet their basic necessities (e.g., life-saving medications, housing, and food), how can you expect them to be productive and happy at work? While you certainly shouldn’t start escorting employees to annual checkups and ensuring they follow their doctor’s orders, you should arm team members with the tools they need to navigate the complex U.S. healthcare system.
Here are a few ways you can make medical care more affordable for employees:
- them to helpful resources like GoodRx, which offers free coupons to help employees save on prescription drug costs.
- them to ask their doctors and pharmacists about the price differences between brand-name and generic drugs, as well as alternative forms of therapy that might be less expensive. People often don’t even realize they can shop around for care.
- them how to navigate online pharmacies, such as the Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Company. Online pharmacies can be great options for employees on regular medications because they can usually order them in bulk to save on monthly costs.
- a benefit like Paytient to your existing health plan. Paytient members can use their cards to pay for prescription drugs without delay and then split the resulting bill over multiple paychecks.
Americans are quite familiar with the high cost of prescription drugs, and far too many of us have been forced to choose between life-saving care and basic necessities such as housing and food. Although employers can’t fix the systemic issue of rising drug prices, they can help ease the burden on their employees.