Lack of prescription drug benefits seriously affects minority seniors, as well as those with low income, SFVAMC study says

African American and Hispanic senior citizens who lack prescription drug benefits are three times more likely than white seniors to cut back on taking their medications, according to a study from researchers at San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Although income level and medication cost also influenced decisions to restrict medication, ethnicity was an independent risk factor, the researchers said.

The researchers had no definitive explanation for their findings, saying that more research is needed to explain why minority patients who lack insurance are more likely to cut back on their prescription coverage. However, they said the study shows that money is not the only factor that affects whether uninsured seniors take their prescription drugs.

"Forgoing medications for lack of coverage is a very real phenomenon. This study calls attention to the magnitude of this problem, particularly among certain disadvantaged communities," said Michael Steinman, MD, a fellow in the VA National Quality Scholars Program at SFVAMC and University of California, San Francisco.

Seniors without prescription drug coverage were an oft-debated campaign issue during the presidential election last fall; both major candidates offering a different plan to add drug coverage to the Medicare benefit program.

But until now the scope of this problem had not been rigorously studied, Steinman said. "This is the only paper we're aware of that analyzes the scope of this problem in detail," he said.

The researchers surveyed 4,900 people over age 70, asking them, "at any time in the last two years have you ended up taking less medication than was prescribed for you because of cost?" They asked about income, assets, insurance coverage, monthly prescription drug costs, and ethnicity.

Eight percent of seniors without coverage said they had cut back on their medication, which represents more than one million Americans doing wit

Contact: Kevin Boyd
University of California - San Francisco

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