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Diagnosing Prescription Drug Affordability

The price of prescription drugs is rising, but the percentage of Coloradans who can’t afford them is falling.

CHI published a new analysis of Colorado Health Access Survey (CHAS) data titled “Sticker Shock: More Coloradans Can Afford Prescriptions, but Problems Remain” today.

And the findings may seem counterintuitive. The percentage of Coloradans who could not fill a prescription because it cost too much is at a six-year low of 9.8 percent, according to the CHAS. Despite higher prescription drug prices, this makes sense. Colorado’s uninsured rate has dropped from 14.3 percent in 2013 to 6.7 percent in 2015, an historic low driven by the Affordable Care Act. More people with more health insurance can afford more prescription drugs.

There’s more to the story, however. The decline in those who said they couldn’t afford their prescriptions wasn’t as large as we might have expected. Colorado’s uninsured rate was cut in half from 2013 to 2015, while the percentage of Coloradans who couldn’t afford a prescription dropped by a few percentage points.

We’re also learning that even though lots of Coloradans are gaining health insurance, that doesn’t always mean that it’s adequate health insurance. About 27 percent of the people who couldn’t afford a prescription drug were underinsured.

And not everyone is having the same experience with prescription drug affordability.  Geographical, income and age disparities exist in Colorado.   

The affordability of prescription drugs is important because not filling a prescription can result in more hospitalizations and emergency room visits and increased illness.

Our new analysis addresses these questions: Who is most likely to not fill a prescription due to cost? And has health reform affected the ability of Coloradans to afford prescription drugs?

Decision makers have taken note of the rising cost of prescriptions and the burden that places on consumers, with a number of state and federal legislative proposals around the country beginning to target prescription drug prices.