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More Children and Working-Age Americans Go Without Prescribed Drugs Because of Cost

1 in 7 Americans under 65 Couldn't Afford to Fill Prescriptions in 2007, up from 1 in 10 in 2003

News Release
Jan. 22, 2009

Alwyn Cassil (202) 264-3484 or

WASHINGTON, DC—The proportion of children and working-age Americans who went without a prescription drug because of cost concerns jumped to one in seven in 2007, up from one in 10 in 2003, according to a national study released today by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC) and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Rising prescription drug costs and less generous drug coverage likely contributed to the growth in nonelderly Americans who went without a prescribed medication because of cost concerns—from 10.3 percent in 2003 to 13.9 percent in 2007, according to findings from HSC’s 2007 Health Tracking Household Survey, a nationally representative survey containing information on 10,400 working-age adults (ages 19-64) and 2,600 children. The survey had a 43 percent response rate.

The most vulnerable people—those with low incomes, chronic conditions and the uninsured—continue to face the greatest unmet prescription drug needs, the study found. Uninsured, working-age Americans saw the biggest jump in unmet prescription drug needs between 2003 and 2007, with the proportion rising from 26 percent to almost 35 percent. Nearly one in four working-age adults with Medicaid or other state insurance reported difficulties affording prescription drugs, while nearly three in 10 working-age Medicare beneficiaries reported such problems.

At the same time, a growing proportion (10.7%) of working-age Americans with employer-sponsored insurance reported going without prescription medications in 2007, up from with 8.7 percent in 2003, the study found.

"The number of Americans who cannot afford prescription medications is likely to grow as the economy continues to decline and the ranks of the uninsured grow," said Laurie E. Felland, M.S. an HSC senior health researcher and coauthor of the study with HSC Senior Health Researcher Jim Reschovsky, Ph.D. HSC is a nonpartisan health policy research organization funded in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which funded the survey and the study.

The study’s findings are detailed in a new HSC Tracking Report—More Nonelderly Americans Face Problems Affording Prescription Drugsavailable here. Other key findings include:

  • Approximately 36.1 million working-age (19-64) people and children went without prescription drugs because of cost concerns in 2007, an increase of 11.7 million people from 2003.
  • Unmet prescription drug needs among working-age adults increased from 13.8 percent to 17.8 percent between 2003 and 2007—a 29 percent increase. Because children typically are in better health and require fewer medications than adults, they have fewer prescription drug access problems. Nevertheless, unmet prescription drug needs between 2003 and 2007 grew even faster among children, from 3.1 percent to 5 percent—affecting 3.9 million children in 2007.
  • More than one in four working-age adults with a chronic condition (26.3%) reported unmet prescription drug needs in 2007, compared with 12.9 percent of people without a chronic condition.
  • Uninsured working-age adults with one or more chronic conditions had the worst access across groups, with almost two-thirds reporting unmet prescription drug needs.
  • Low-income people—those in families with income less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or $41,300 for a family of four in 2007—reported greater difficulty affording prescription drugs than higher-income people. In 2007, almost three in 10 low-income, working-age adults reported prescription drug access problems (29.8%), compared with 13.5 percent of higher-income, working-age adults.
  • More than four in 10 low-income people with chronic conditions reported unmet prescription drug needs in 2007, compared with 8.9 percent of higher-income people without chronic conditions
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The Center for Studying Health System Change is a nonpartisan policy research organization committed to providing objective and timely research on the nation’s changing health system to help inform policy makers and contribute to better health care policy. HSC, based in Washington, D.C., is funded principally by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and is affiliated with Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.


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