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Public opinions appear split on health care affordability, satisfaction, survey finds

Friday, January 09 2009 | Comments
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Most adults express confidence about medical care and drug affordability in the coming year, although there are still some who are not confident and believe more work to guarantee access to health coverage is needed, researchers conclude.

On behalf of AARP, Woelfel Research Inc. surveyed 1,001 adults aged 45 years or older via telephone in November to gauge their confidence regarding health care affordability in 2009.

Within the study sample, 32 percent had health insurance through their current employer, 9 percent through their spouse's current employer, 21 percent through Medicare, 12 percent had individual coverage and 10 percent had a retiree health benefit; 8 percent lacked health insurance completely. Coverage through a current employer was more common among the respondents aged 45 to 64 years as compared with those aged 65 years or older. This younger group was also more likely to lack insurance as compared with the older group.

Overall, 26 percent of the respondents said they were "extremely confident" and 33 percent said they were "very confident" that they would be able to afford medical care during the next year. Nine percent said they were "not very confident" and 10 percent said they were "not at all confident" about medical care affordability.

These trends were similar in terms of prescription drug affordability. Thirty percent of the respondents said they were "extremely confident," 31 percent "very confident," 9 percent "not very confident" and 8 percent said they were "not at all confident" about being able to afford all of their prescription drugs in 2009.

Only 29 percent of the survey participants did not report taking any prescription drugs. Approximately one third of the adults reported spending from $1 to $49 per month on prescription drugs during 2007 and 2008.

Most adults (69 percent) said they had a health professional review their drug regimens during the past six months and 62 percent have kept a record of all their prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs. Still, only 54 percent of those who kept a record took it with them to an appointment with a physician or to the pharmacist.

Fifty-eight percent of the survey participants said they "always" asked their physician for a generic drug alternative and 62 percent said they "always" chose a generic versus brand-name therapy. Also, 49 percent said they have asked their physician for ways to reduce the number of drugs they take, such as a diet change.

Cost concerns were more evident among Medicare-eligible adults. Approximately 40 percent of the survey respondents were enrolled in a Medicare Part D plan. Of these, 23 percent said they were "extremely satisfied" and 44 percent said they were "very satisfied." Most were also "extremely" or "very" satisfied with their monthly premium price. Only 44 percent said they would likely consider a new plan during the open enrollment period that ended Dec. 31.

Approximately 60 percent said they would look for lower copayments or lower monthly premiums if they were seeking a new Part D plan. In fact, 70 percent said the monthly premium they pay is the most they can afford to pay. In a similar 2007 survey, 54 percent made this claim.

Fifty-one percent said they would look for coverage during the donut hole if they were seeking a new Part D plan.

Approximately one quarter of the Part D beneficiaries said they asked their pharmacist or physician for assistance in getting their drug plan to cover all their drug needs.

Nineteen percent of the Medicare beneficiaries reported skipping a medication dose, 17 percent took less than the prescribed dose, 16 percent asked a drug company about their prescription assistance program and 12 percent said they did not fill a prescription.

AARP concluded that based on the survey findings, there are still many things that are uncertain, but it is clear that "we can always do more to ensure that access to quality health coverage is the strong foundation upon which to build and maintain economic security."

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