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Filling the Rx: An Analysis of the Perceptions, Attitudes and Buying Habits of Medicare Beneficiaries

This report presents findings from the first of three surveys on Medicare-eligible older adults' attitudes and behavior related to buying prescription drugs. This first wave was conducted to assess the purchasing behavior of this population before the advent of the Medicare Rx discount cards. The second survey will be conducted among those older adults who purchased a Medicare Rx discount card, and the third survey will be among those same people after they have had a few months to actually use the cards. Taken together, the results of all three surveys will provide an adequate picture of how these Rx discount cards influence the prescription-drug purchasing behavior of the eligible population.

This survey was conducted in April 2004 by mail. The sample comprised 2,747 people aged 65 or older (average age 76) who currently take prescription drugs on a regular basis (averaging 3 prescription drugs per day). Seventy percent of the participants were receiving some type of assistance in paying for their medications. The sample represents a variety of income levels, with additional numbers of low-income individuals added to represent the population that would be eligible for the $600 transitional-assistance benefit attached to the Medicare Rx cards. Households with less than $18,000 in annual income comprised 40 percent of the sample.

Among the findings of the study are the following:

  • Seventy-one percent of the participants considered paying for their prescriptions to be a problem.

  • Older, low-income, widowed women were the group most likely to report major difficulties in paying for their monthly prescription drugs.

  • About 7 in 10 respondents with monthly out-of-pocket expenses over $200 routinely ask for generic drugs.

  • A solid majority of 56 percent of the sample want the U.S. government to make it legal to buy prescription drugs from Canada and other countries; 20 percent oppose this move, and 16 percent are unsure.

Other findings are presented on participants' behavior to save money on prescriptions, likelihood of signing up for the Medicare Rx discount card, and perceived savings with that card.

The data were collected by National Family Opinion, and the report was written by Jeffrey Love of AARP Knowledge Management. For further information about this study, please contact Jeffrey Love at 202/434-6279. (17 pages)

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