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Patients, Doctors Don't Discuss Rx Prices

Poll Shows Cost of Drugs Isn't a Factor in Doctor-Patient Discussions

WebMD Health News

March 17, 2009 -- Most patients never talk about price when getting a drug prescription from their doctor, and few confront the actual price of their drugs before it's time to pay at the pharmacy, according to a poll released by Consumers Union.

The group is urging doctors and patients to factor in the price of drugs when deciding on treatments. They're pointing to generics, which in many cases are just as effective and safe for the fraction of the price of a brand-name alternative.

"If cost is an issue, have a heart-to-heart with your doctor and make sure he or she knows that costs are an issue," says John Santa, MD, an internist and director of the Consumer Reports health rating center.

Consumers Union released a poll of roughly 2,000 adults showing that just 4% discussed price when getting a drug prescription from their doctor; as many as 60% of those polled learned about the price of their drugs for the first time at the pharmacy register.

The poll was conducted between Jan. 15 and Jan. 19; it has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

The poll confirms what many other studies have shown: that many patients regularly resort to measures such as cutting pills in half, skipping doses, or skipping medication altogether in an effort to save on medical bills.

"Sticker shock is really taking a toll on American consumers," says Ed Farrell, director of national research at Consumer Reports.

The magazine's latest issue has a guide to cheaper generics in about 20 drug classes, including drugs for high blood pressure, depression, and high cholesterol.

Comparative Effectiveness Research

Consumers Union is backing an Obama administration plan to boost research directly comparing the effectiveness of different drugs, devices, and other treatments. The hope is to find less-expensive treatments or tests that work as well as the more expensive versions.

Congress spent $1.1 billion in the economic stimulus bill to jump-start so-called "comparative effectiveness" research at the federal level.

But comparative effectiveness research -- or at least the way the government and insurers might use it -- is controversial.

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