Disabled Medicare patients that can't afford medications visit ED more often

Photo used with permission from Shuttershock.com

Study finds disabled patients more likely unable to afford medications

According to the results of a study published Tuesday in Annals of Emergency Medicine, disabled Medicare patients under age 65 who are unable to take their prescription medications due to cost concerns are more likely to visit the emergency department at least once during the course of a year.

A survey given to 7,177 Medicare beneficiaries found that 7.5 percent of respondents reported mild cost-related non-adherence (CRN) and 8.2 percent reported severe CRN. According to the study, mild CRN is defined as skipping or taking smaller doses of prescribed medications or delaying filling prescriptions to make medicine last longer, and severe CRN is defined as not filling prescriptions at all because of cost. A higher rate of non-adherence has been estimated to cost $100 billion a year in avoidable hospitalizations, according to the study.

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“Poverty and disability increase the risk that patients don’t take their medicine because of the cost, which can lead to avoidable hospitalizations,” said lead study author Janice Blanchard, PhD, from the Department of Emergency Medicine at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., in a press release. “As with many other social problems, the emergency department is where these patients end up. It also has the potential to help these patients get their medications affordably so they stay out of the hospital.”

According to the study, Medicare patients reporting severe CRN were more likely than those without CRN to have at least one emergency department visit and they also had a higher number of ED visits within the year.  Approximately 38.3 percent of patients with severe CRN had at least one emergency department visit, while 27.5 percent of patients without CRN visited the ED. Additionally, of disabled Medicare patients, those with severe CRN were more likely to have at least one ER visit as compared to disabled Medicare patients without CRN, disabled Medicare patients with mild CRN and elderly Medicare patients in all CRN categories.

“Disabled Medicare patients are a high risk population,” said Blanchard, in a written statement. “Specific policies that aim to help these patients take their medications as needed may be developed in the emergency departments these patients turn to in their hour of need. We may be able to connect them with lower-cost medications or federal and state programs designed to provide prescription assistance.”

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Prescription Medication photo from Shuttershock.com.