Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.

Donate
Topics

UCare generously supports MinnPost’s Second Opinion coverage; learn why.

Survey finds Americans wary of their doctors’ relationships with Big Pharma — and struggling to pay drug bills

Consumer Reports published the results of its second annual prescription drug survey Wednesday, and it has some interesting findings.
First, consumers are apparently very wary of their physicians’ relationships with pharmaceutical companies.

Consumer Reports published the results of its second annual prescription drug survey Wednesday, and it has some interesting findings.

First, consumers are apparently very wary of their physicians’ relationships with pharmaceutical companies. They think those relationships are far too cozy – and thus are influencing which drugs are being prescribed to them.

The survey also found that many Americans are struggling to pay their prescription drug bills, and a disturbing number of them are resorting to potentially health-endangering actions to keep those costs down.

The survey, which was conducted by telephone last May, includes the responses from 1,154 adults who currently take prescription drugs.

Article continues after advertisement

Worries about industry influences
Here’s what the people surveyed said about the relationship between their own personal doctors and Big Pharma:

  • 69 percent think drug companies exert too much influence over which drugs their doctors prescribe.
  • 50 percent believe their doctors are too eager to prescribe a drug rather than to recommend an alternative nondrug method of managing their condition.
  • 47 percent believe their doctors’ prescription decisions are influenced by gifts from drug companies.
  • 41 percent believe their doctors tend to prescribe newer, more expensive drugs over older, less expensive ones.

In addition, 81 percent of the respondents said they’re concerned in general about doctors receiving payments from a drug company for writing a lot of prescriptions for that company’s drugs, and 72 percent were unhappy about drug companies paying doctors to provide testimonials or to serve as drug company spokespeople.

Consumers have good reason to be concerned. As reported in the Pioneer Press last year, Minnesota doctors alone received $13 million in payments from pharmaceutical companies in 2008 for researching, lecturing and consulting. Still, thanks probably to the glare of public scrutiny, that number was almost $4 million less than had been accepted by the state’s doctors the previous year.

Worries about costs
A stunning (to me) finding from the survey was the lack of communication between doctors and patients about the cost of medications. Only 6 percent of the survey’s respondents found out about the cost of their drug during their doctor visit. Most (64 percent) discovered the cost when they went to pick it up from their pharmacist. By then, of course, patients may feel it’s too late to ask if there’s a cheaper generic drug available — or a less expensive, nondrug way of treating their condition.

That finding makes one wonder: Why aren’t doctors asking their patients if they can actually afford the treatments being prescribed?

And here’s another interesting detail from the survey: Of the 66 percent of respondents who said they had received free drug samples from their doctors (such samples are provided by the pharmaceutical companies to encourage the use of their products), most had high incomes and prescription drug coverage. Those are exactly the people who least need such freebies.

Given our current economic situation and the fact that drug costs continue to climb faster than inflation, it’s probably not all that surprising that 39 percent of the survey’s respondents said they had taken matters into their own hands to lower their medication bills — things like not getting a prescription filled, skipping a scheduled dose of a prescription, cutting a pill in half, or sharing a prescription with others. The people most likely to take these potentially dangerous cost-saving actions were those under the age of 65 (not yet eligible for Medicare) who didn’t have a drug benefit, those with an annual income under $40,000, and those whose monthly medication costs exceed $50.

All in all, a rather sobering survey.