Economy

1 in 5 older Americans scrimp on health care to save money

Feb. 28, 2012 at 7:33 AM ET

Employee Benefit Research Institute /
According the study, 21.5 percent of 50+ households made prescription drug changes, 19.4 percent skipped doctor appointments and 27.5 percent had difficulty making monthly payments.

If you’ve ever thought twice about going to the doctor or taking a pill because of the cost, you likely aren’t alone.

About 20 percent of Americans over the age of 50 are switching to cheaper prescriptions, failing to take the medicine they are supposed to or skipping trips to the doctor to save money, according to a new research from a Washington-based think tank.

It's the latest example of how high health care costs are forcing some Americans to choose between financial and physical health.

The Employee Benefit Research Institute used a comprehensive 2009 survey of 4,433 Americans 50 and over to get a sense of how many older people couldn’t afford to get the health care that was recommended to them.

The survey found that 19 percent said they had skipped or postponed a doctor’s appointment to save money, while 21.5 percent said they had made prescription drug changes to save money.

The most common approach was the least worrisome: Many said they switched to cheaper generic drugs or used free samples.

But about one-quarter of those who made prescription drug changes said they’d stopped taking one or more pills. About one-fourth also said they’d split pills or taken a reduced dosage to make the medications last longer.

Skipping an occasional pill or doctor’s appointment might not affect you much, as long as you are generally in good health. But the researchers found that the people who were most likely to skimp on health care were also the ones who reported they were in poor health.

Single women and African-Americans were the most likely to report making such changes to save money.

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