Health Insurance Aside, Americans Still Struggle to Pay for Their Medications

Thomas Goetz, MPH, MA
Updated on November 25, 2018

More than 40% of Americans are struggling to pay for the cost of their medications – even though nearly all of them have some kind of health insurance coverage, a new GoodRx survey has found.

Data represented in different ways

Despite the fact that nearly all survey respondents reported they had some health insurance coverage for medications, the analysis reveals that a full one-third of Americans have trouble paying for their medication – forcing them to borrow money, skip out on food or housing, or even not fill their prescriptions altogether because of the expense. And more than a third say they are paying more for their medications than a year ago, the survey found.

About 70% of people surveyed indicated they have taken one or more medications, which is consistent with other estimates of medication use among US adults. And 47.5% said they had health insurance through an employer, which also tracks with other recent data.

The survey, conducted by the GoodRx research team of economists and data analysts, used Google Surveys, and ran between October 29 and November 2, 2018. Respondents were screened to include those who have taken one or more prescriptions over the past year for an ongoing condition (i.e. a chronic condition such as diabetes). The 1,060 respondents included Americans of all genders and ages. (More information about the fidelity and methodology behind Google Surveys can be found here.)

The 6 main takeaways

  1. One-third of Americans say they have skipped filling a prescription one or more times, because of the cost. Skipping prescription can lead to complications for untreated conditions, and cause increased healthcare costs such as hospitalization, surgery, or emergency medical care.

  2. 36% say the amount they pay for prescriptions has gone up in the past year – while only 6% say their costs have gone down. Soaring out-of-pocket expenses are often to due rising deductibles, increased co-pay fees, or certain medications being no longer covered by insurance.

  3. 19% say they have tapped into savings to pay for prescription medicine – while 12% say they have no savings to begin with. This is consistent with recent data that 40% of Americans can’t afford a $400 emergency expense.

  4. 18% say they have had trouble paying for basic necessities like food or housing due to the cost of their medication – and 18% have borrowed money from friends or family, taken out a loan, or even declared bankruptcy because of the cost of their medications.

  5. 39% say they’ve used a discount or coupon in the past year to help pay for their prescription. Americans are increasingly finding discounts or coupon prices can beat their insurance co-pay, especially for the commonly prescribed generic medications that most Americans take.

  6. 42% say they have found paying for medications to be somewhat or very difficult, even though 94% indicated they have health insurance to help pay for the cost of their prescriptions.

    GoodRx will follow up on this survey with other regular assessments exploring how medications create significant financial burdens to Americans.

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