By Denise Grady
Two young brothers with the same chronic illness. One mother's struggle...and what she knows now about keeping her children healthy.
When I first learned that my older son had asthma, I imagined that it would go away in a few weeks or months. I clung to that bit of denial, I guess, because it helped ease the fear and sadness as reality sank in. Brian was only 3, and deep down my husband and I knew we were facing a serious chronic disease that would probably hang on...
"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.