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Vast majority of Americans taking prescription meds, study finds

Posted On Fri, June 21, 2013

Were it not for affordable health insurance rates, Americans today would be devoting a substantial portion of their out-of-pocket income to prescription medications, based on recent findings released by researchers from Mayo Clinic and Olmsted Medical Center.

According to recent analysis, approximately 70 percent of Americans are taking at least one medication on a regular basis that's been prescribed by a doctor and 50 percent are on at least two. Additionally, one in five Americans take five prescription meds or more.

Jennifer St. Sauver, lead author for the study and member of the Mayo Clinic Population Health Program, noted that what may come as a surprise is how many people are taking medicine for depression.

"The second most common prescription was for antidepressants - that suggests mental health is a huge issue and is something we should focus on," said St. Sauver. "And the third most common drugs were opioids, which is a bit concerning considering their addicting nature."

The report also revealed that among men and women, females are more likely are more likely to be taking prescriptions based on medical records. Additionally, the older people are, the more that they tend to take due to natural age-related decline.

Researchers note that for the past 10 years, prescription use has risen substantially. As recently as 2000, only about 44 percent of Americans took a prescription medication on a regular basis, increasing to 48 percent by 2008. By the following year, healthcare expenditures totaled $250 billion, or 12 percent of health insurance costs overall.

The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that by 2010, spending for prescription drugs rose $9 billion to $259 billion and is projected to more than double by 2020.

Health insurance options
As a result of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, all individuals who are financially capable will be required to carry some type of health insurance in order to pay for prescription and other health-related services. Those who can't afford the cost will be able to apply for subsidies, so long as they meet the necessary qualifications.

Because of the ACA, virtually all of the health plans in 2014 will be required to have a minimum basis of benefits that consumers can take advantage of. However, more than six months away from the law going into effect, there are a variety of health insurance options that have different coverage options.

For example, as the Insurance Information Institute points out, basic health plans are just as the name describes - they provide the most essential coverage needed based on the policyholder's condition and age. However, they often don't have prescription drug benefits or other specific needs, such as treatment for chemotherapy or pregnancy.

Then there are health maintenance organizations, or HMOs. These are likely the plan offerings that are the most familiar to consumers, and are made up of a network of physicians that people can choose from that an insurer covers. This physician and hospital is then assigned to said patient and healthcare needs are coordinated on an as-needed basis. Generally, an HMO carries with it a co-payment that policyholders pay when they see the doctor for treatment or a check-up.

Another common form of health insurance is Medicare, which is government sponsored. Once people turn 65 years of age, they become eligible to receive this coverage, which pays for certain treatments and other healthcare related needs that seniors may require.

Medicaid, meanwhile, is also government-sponsored, but unlike Medicare, it's primarily for individuals who have limited income. Those who are unable to afford health insurance on their own can apply for Medicaid so their medical expenses can be taken care of, provided they are eligible.

The III provides a list of several other health insurance options that policyholders can choose from.

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