Ann Arbor, MI—More than a quarter of Americans aged 50 years and older say their drug costs cause financial strain, but many of them don’t ask their pharmacist or other healthcare professionals to help them find lower-cost options.

That’s according to the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging, a new initiative based at the university’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation and sponsored by AARP and Michigan Medicine.

The survey notes that most people aged 50 years and older in the United States take two or more prescription medications for prevention or treatment of health issues.

“We already know that cost can keep patients from taking the drugs they need to maintain health or prevent complications, but these new data suggest that many older adults aren’t talking to their doctors or pharmacists about cost and less-expensive alternatives as often as they could,” explained Preeti Malani, MD, director of the poll and a professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School. “This represents an opportunity for patients, clinicians—as well as health systems, insurers and policymakers.”

The poll involved a nationally representative sample including 2,131 participants, about half of them aged 50 to 64 years, and the other half aged 65 to 90 years, who are eligible for Medicare. The questions were available online, and laptops and Internet access were provided to respondents who did not have those tools.

Overall, 27% responded that prescription drug costs posed a financial burden. Yet 49% of those hadn’t discussed the problem with their physician. Of respondents who did raise the questions with a healthcare professional, 67% of those who talked to their doctor and 37% of those who talked to their pharmacist were able to get a recommendation for a less-expensive medication, according to poll results.

High cost was especially an issue for the one in six respondents reporting a “high complexity” of prescription management, defined as taking six or more prescriptions drugs and seeing more than one doctor.

“Based on these findings, and other evidence, we encourage patients to speak up during their clinic visits, and when they’re at the pharmacy, and ask about ways to reduce the cost of their prescriptions,” Malani emphasized. “But equally, we see a need for health professionals to find ways to more routinely engage with patients about cost— especially through formal medication reviews such as the one that Medicare will cover.”

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