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Lowering the Costs of Asthma Treatment

Asthma treatment has made great strides, but good care is costly. Here are ways to get some help.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Cynthia Dennison Haines, MD

Asthma treatment has made enormous strides in recent years. With improved care and better medicines, most people can control their condition and live full, normal lives.

But not everyone is benefiting. For the millions of people in the U.S. with low incomes and little or no insurance, the high costs can make asthma treatment difficult.

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"The treatment costs are an enormous problem for many people with asthma," says Norman Edelman, MD, a pulmonologist and Chief Medical Officer for the American Lung Association. "And the problem is getting worse instead of better."

A staggering 43% of all people with asthma said that, in the past year, they did not have the money to pay for their treatment, according to the 2005 Health Costs Survey sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Harvard School of Public Health, and USA Today.

"There are no easy answers and no perfect solutions to this problem," says allergist Jonathan A. Bernstein, MD, associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. But there are ways for savvy patients to save on their asthma treatment.

The High Cost of Asthma

Asthma is a costly disease. People with moderate to severe asthma often need at least three different drugs, says Mo Mayrides, director of public policy at the Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America.

A 2003 study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology estimated the annual costs for asthma treatment at over $4,900 per person. These include both direct costs -- such as medicine and visits to the doctor or hospital -- and indirect costs, such as time off from work. Medicines make up about half of the expense.

The uninsured are at the greatest risk. More than one in six people with asthma don't have insurance, according to a 2005 study prepared by the Urban Institute and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. That adds up to about 2 million Americans.

As costs rise, many people with limited resources try to stretch their medication. One 2004 study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that when co-pays doubled, people with asthma reduced the use of their drugs by 32%. They stopped taking their medicine every day. They began to use it only for emergencies.

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