At 14, Alyssa Flanagan’s asthma symptoms all but disappeared.
Since the age of 4, she had been hospitalized a few times each year -- once
in the intensive care unit - when her colds turned into coughing, wheezy
pneumonias. Asthma loomed large in her life.
“The simplest explanation is that I’ve outgrown it, or for some reason,
there was an immune trigger that’s not present anymore,” says Flanagan, now a
30-year-old medical resident at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
Flanagan says she’s...
"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.
The 2005 Health Costs Survey bears this out. The researchers found that 44%
of all people with asthma tried to save cash by not taking their medicine or
skipping doctor's visits.
"I see people with asthma rationing their medicines all the time,"
But while conserving makes sense in other parts of your life -- like
lowering your thermostat to save on heating bills -- it doesn't work with
asthma treatment. For people with moderate to severe asthma, daily medications
are the bedrock of treatment. If you only treat flare-ups, your asthma is
likely to get worse. A passive approach, in which you wait for things to
worsen, will lead to greater long-term costs.