Americans on Drug Prices

A new survey shows that many have trouble paying—and many want costly meds.

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A new poll released yesterday found that 41 percent of Americans say they have trouble paying for their prescription drugs. If older folks' experience is any indication, the bite is certainly growing more painful: The AARP reported today that the prices of brand-name drugs used most by seniors rose an average 7.4 percent in 2007, more than twice the rate of inflation. But yesterday's poll also found that 32 percent have asked their doctor about a drug they saw advertised. I'm not suggesting that the very same people who say they can't afford their drugs are the ones inquiring about the pricey brand-name drugs they see on TV. But it makes you wonder when sizable numbers of Americans find both those statements to be true.

The study of 1,695 adults, jointly sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Harvard School of Public Health, and USA Today, found that about two thirds believed there are too many drug ads on TV and a similar number said that prescription drug ads encourage people to take medications they don't need. Do people need the sleeping pills, impotence drugs, and stomach acid relievers that seem to get the most air time these days? I don't know. I'd like to think that doctors steer their patients — especially the low-income and uninsured ones who reported having the most worries about drug costs — to over-the-counter or generic alternatives if they're available. The study found that 82 percent of those who asked their doctors about an advertised drug walked away with a prescription for either that drug or another one. Maybe it was a generic. I hope so.