Meddling with medications can have extreme repercussions – more than 120,000 people in this country die each year because of failure to take prescriptions as directed. To make matters worse, statistics show that 75 percent of Americans do not take their prescriptions as instructed.
On Friday, about 20 elderly gathered at the Pilgrim Senior Center for a meeting about medication adherence and health care. All of them said they were taking at least one prescription drug a day.
According to a presentation by University of Rhode Island pharmacy students, 133 million Americans have a chronic health condition, and just under half the country’s population is on at least one prescription drug. Fifteen percent of Americans take four or more prescription medications.
Bob Green and Caitlin Dowd, both pharmacy students at URI and intern pharmacists with CVS and Rite Aid, said one of the biggest problems with prescription medications is that people take them improperly. Skipping a dosage, doubling up, halving pills or modifying doctor’s orders are all ways in which people can do harm to themselves when taking prescription drugs.
Those at the Pilgrim Senior Center all said they took their medications as their doctors ordered, but most admitted to forgetting a pill here and there.
That’s where Script Your Future, a national campaign, comes into play. Erin Arcand, field organizer for Script Your Future, said the campaign is geared toward people with chronic medical conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular and pulmonary disorders. But the campaign isn’t limited to those people, and their main goal is to help those on prescription drugs manage their dosage, administration and costs.
On Friday, the Rhode Island Script Your Future, in conjunction with the Rhode Island Pharmacists Association, hosted an information session for seniors about prescription adherence, cost and health care reforms. Senator Jack Reed was on hand to speak with seniors about the importance of being able to afford quality health care, and to have access to their prescriptions.
“I understand how important prescription drugs are in maintaining your health,” said Reed, who also told seniors that taking advantage of free health screenings in their communities is a great early intervention technique.
“It’s not just about having a good prescription, it’s about being able to afford it,” he said.
As a result of the Affordable Care Act, said Reed, nearly 5.4 million seniors and people with disabilities have saved more than $4.1 billion on prescription drugs.
Previously, what was known as a “donut hole” in Part D Medicare coverage would cause seniors to pay more out of pocket for prescription drugs. In 2010, one-time $250 rebates were offered to those who hit the “donut hole” portion of their coverage, and in 2011, beneficiaries received discounts on both brand name and generic prescriptions. Now, in 2012, the percentage of cost covered has increased, and the gap is set to close in 2020.
Since the Affordable Care Act was enacted in 2010, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) data shows that beneficiaries have saved an average of $768. Locally, Rhode Islanders have saved $15 million in Medicare costs since 2010, and $2.5 million since the start of 2012. Reed said ObamaCare also ensures that thousands of people under the age of 26 will now be covered by family plans, having access to health coverage they may not have had.
In addition to coverage, the new plan ensures that at least 80 percent of health care premiums will now go to actual health care costs, not extraneous things like advertising, explained Reed.
“We’ve given benefits,” he said. “We’ve increased benefits.”
New reforms also aim to make America healthier with early intervention techniques like free screenings.
“You have a much, much better chance of successful outcome if you’re diagnosed early,” said Reed.
According to CMS statistics, 18 million people with Original Medicare have been able to receive at least one preventive service at no cost to them since January. In prior years, those with Medicare had to shoulder some of the burden of the cost of preventative treatments; now, that’s no longer an issue.
In addition to the reforms, Reed said they’ve also worked to strengthen Medicare, lengthening solvency from 2016 to 2024.
Arcand said medication affordability is something she hears a lot about from seniors.
“Number one what we hear about is cost,” she said. But in addition to affordability, seniors are worried about medication interaction and side effects. Their fears, said Arcand, sometimes lead seniors to stray from the doctor’s orders on medication administration.
At Friday’s meeting, seniors asked the URI pharmacy students, Dowd and Green, everything from where to get free flu shots to who to call with questions about medication interactions. The pair said local pharmacists are always a great resource for answers to prescription questions, since pharmacists are trained to do more than simply count pills.
For more information on Script Your Future and their upcoming events, visit www.ScriptYourFuture.org.