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Drug costs decline but remain high for many families, study finds


NEW YORK — While the financial burden that families face due to prescription drugs has declined, costs nevertheless remain a challenge for many of them, according to a new study by nonprofit research organization Rand Corp.

The study, published in the February issue of the journal Health Affairs, found that more than 8 million non-elderly Americans lived in families facing high drug costs in 2008, with a quarter devoting more than half of their out-of-pocket medical spending on prescription drugs. Overall, the percentage of people with a high financial burden for prescription drugs increased from 1999 to 2003, went down between 2003 and 2007 and increased slightly in 2008. In 1999, about 3% of non-elderly Americans lived in families that spent more than 10% of their income on prescription drugs, while nearly 27% lived in families where more than half of all out-of-pocket healthcare costs were spent on drugs. By 2003, those figures had risen to 4% and 33.6%, respectively, subsequently falling to 3.1% and 25.4% by 2008.

The study found that while spending on prescription drugs accounts for 10% of all healthcare spending in the United States, out-of-pocket costs for doors make up a much larger percentage of health spending by individuals, especially among low-income people with government-provided insurance and those with such chronic diseases as diabetes.

"Our findings are evidence of the success of strategies already in place to help lower the cost of medications for consumers, even during a period when medication use was increasing," lead study author Walid Gellad said. "But the burden of drug costs remains high for many Americans, which is an important issue for policy-makers to consider as health reform extends insurance coverage to more people."

The researchers found that the main reason for the decrease in drug costs was that the increased use of generic drugs as health plans over the last decade have encouraged their use and generic versions of more drugs have become available.

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