New survey shows seniors are making difficult financial choices at the start of the year to afford their medications

By Dan Klein, former President and CEO of the PAN Foundation

As we come to terms with the impact of the coronavirus, difficult decisions lie ahead—for politicians, business leaders, medical practitioners and everyday Americans. Already, many of us have been forced to make sacrifices and dramatically adjust the way we live to slow the spread of the virus and help alleviate the strains on our healthcare system.

But making difficult decisions to protect their health is nothing new for many people on Medicare.

For America’s seniors, especially those with a serious illness, high out-of-pocket healthcare costs have made lifestyle changes and sacrifices an everyday reality.

To gain a better understanding of the financial burden faced by American seniors, the PAN Foundation enlisted Morning Consult, a leading research organization, to conduct a survey of Medicare recipients on our behalf.

The results show the startling impact that high out-of-pocket costs have on the lifestyle and healthcare decisions of older Americans, especially at the beginning of the year.

Seniors report making lifestyle changes and healthcare decisions to afford their medications

For example, among seniors on Medicare with high out-of-pocket drug costs, (defined as costs greater than $200 in the first two months of the year), over half have reduced spending on non-essential activities, 49 percent have cut back on everyday purchases such as groceries and transportation, and 31 percent have accrued credit card debt to pay for prescription drugs.

When there are no more living expenses to cut, seniors are sometimes forced to make an even riskier sacrifice–to reduce, delay or stop taking their treatment altogether.

In order to afford the out-of-pocket costs for their prescription drugs, nearly 30 percent of respondents reported taking less than their prescribed dose, 23 percent delayed starting treatment or stopped taking their treatment altogether, and 22 percent prioritized treatment or taking prescriptions drugs for one chronic condition over another.  

Solutions to the out-of-pocket cost problem

These survey results underscore the need for long overdue reforms to Medicare Part D that will reduce out-of-pocket costs. The urgency is even greater in the face of a growing global pandemic that poses an acute medical risk to those over 60. It is vital for the health of our seniors to reduce financial barriers to care.

In the current climate, making bipartisan and common-sense reforms to the structure of Medicare Part D–like reducing out-of-pocket costs and spreading them more evenly throughout the year—should be an easy choice. This solution would alleviate the financial burden that millions of Medicare beneficiaries face each January. 

Review the survey results