The findings are based on an in-depth study over a three-year period of nearly 8,000 older adults who were regularly taking prescription medicines at the beginning of the study. By the end of the study, those who said they had had to cut back on their prescriptions because of cost were 76 percent more likely to have suffered a significant decline in their overall health, and 50 percent more likely to have had a heart attack, stroke or chest pain episode, than those who had not cut back.
These differences in health outcomes between the two groups held true even after factors such as age, race, income, education, smoking, alcohol use, obesity and co-existing health problems were taken into account.
In addition to the overall and heart-related differences, participants with depression who were over age 70 when the study began were more likely to have had a significant worsening of their depression by the end of the study if they had cut back on their medicines due to cost. But even the younger participants, who were in their 50s or early 60s when the study began, were more likely to suffer a health decline or a heart event if they had under-used their medications because of cost.
The findings are the first to show a real harm to health over time from restricting prescriptions due to cost. Made by a team from the University of Michigan and the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System and based on nationally representative data from the U-M Institute for Social Research, they will be published in the July issue of Medical Care, a journal of the American Public Health Association. The study was funded by the National Institute on Aging.