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CDC: Millions Skimp on Rx Meds Due to Cost

An estimated 9.2 million adults cut back on prescriptions to save money in 2021

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Millions of adults in the United States are not taking prescription medications as directed. They skip doses, take less than what’s prescribed or delay filling a prescription, all to save money, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Such cost-saving strategies — more often employed by women, adults lacking health coverage, those in fair or poor health, and people with disabilities — have serious implications. According to the CDC, they “may make health conditions worse, result in more serious illness, and require additional expensive treatment.”

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The report relied on survey data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics in 2021. The ongoing national survey included a question asking participants, “During the last 12 months, were any of the following true for you: 1) Skipped medication doses to save money; 2) Took less medication to save money; 3) Delayed filling a prescription to save money.”

Nearly 58 percent of adults ages 18 to 64 said they had taken prescription drugs in the past 12 months. Among them, 8.2 percent — 9.2 million people — reported not taking medications as prescribed due to cost.

The CDC noted that the average price per prescription was stable from 2020 to 2021, but there was an increase in the number of retail prescriptions being filled. As a result, out-of-pocket costs on retail medications rose 4.8 percent, to $63 billion in 2021.

Who is skimping?

The report found little difference based on age, but significant differences based on other factors, including:

  • Gender. Women (9.1 percent) were more likely to skimp than men (7 percent).
  • Disability. Adults with disabilities (20 percent) were nearly three times as likely as adults without disabilities (7.1 percent).
  • Race/ethnicity. Black adults (10.4 percent), Hispanics (9.7 percent), whites (7.4 percent) and Asian Americans (6.8 percent).
  • Health status. Adults in fair or poor health (18 percent) were almost three times as likely to skimp as those in excellent, very good or good health (6.3 percent).
  • Medical insurance. Uninsured adults (22.9 percent), adults with other health coverage (11.4 percent), adults on Medicaid (8 percent), those with private health insurance (6.5 percent).
  • Prescription drug insurance. Adults with no coverage (18.1 percent); those covered by Medicaid, CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program), other public coverage or military coverage (7.6 percent); and adults covered through either a single service plan, a private health insurance plan or Medicare Part D private coverage (6.6 percent).
  • Income. Adults living below the federal poverty level (14.5 percent) were more likely to skimp than wealthier adults. Only 3.9 percent of adults with income four times the poverty level skimped.

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