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Many more people not getting their medications, study finds

March 18, 2010 | 10:10 am

It is probably a sign of the bad economy, but more Americans than ever are not getting the prescription drugs they need, according to new data prepared by Wolters Kluwer Pharma Solutions of Bridgewater, N.J., which monitors drug sales in the United States and abroad. Insurance companies are also increasingly refusing to pay for brand-name drugs, further limiting patients' ability to get prescriptions filled, and generic drugs are becoming more popular than ever.

A study released just last month found that about a quarter of prescriptions written by doctors are not filled by patients, particularly for medications for symptomless problems, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Even when prescriptions are taken to the pharmacy, 6.3% of them were abandoned in 2009, a historically high percentage and an increase of about a quarter over the number from 2008, according to Wolters Kluwer. A prescription is considered abandoned if it is submitted to be filled, but not picked up. The abandonment rate for brand-name drugs was 8.6% in 2009, up 23% from the previous year and 68% since 2006.Lipitor

The situation is further aggravated by the refusal of many insurers to pay for certain drugs, especially those that are brand-named. Such denials were actually down 1.4% in 2009, but were still 22.5% higher than in 2006. Combining patient abandonment and payer denials, 14.4% of all new prescriptions went unfilled last year.

Surprisingly, patient co-pays for prescriptions have risen only modestly, from $26 on average in 2006 to $31 in 2009, according to the company.

Generic drugs now account for two-thirds of all new prescriptions, according to Kluwer Wolters. There were 2.6 billion prescriptions for generics filled in 2009, compared with 1.3 billion for brand-name drugs. That represents a 2.7% increase in total prescriptions over the preceding year and an 11.4% increase since 2006.

The top 10 brand-name drugs in 2009 were Lipitor, Nexium, Plavix, Singulair, Synthroid, Lexapro, ProAir HFA, Crestor, Advair Diskus and Diovan. Sales of Lipitor were down 11.7%. The only gainers among the group were Plavix (3.9%), Proair HFA (56%), Crestor (24.5%) and Advair Dikus (0.9%).

-- Thomas H. Maugh II

Photo: Although the number of prescriptions written for Lipitor declined 11.7% in 2009, it remained the most commonly prescribed drug, with more than 59 million scripts written. Credit: Mel Evans / Associated Press