Prescription drugs are not the main cause of rising health care costs, but paying for medication is taking more and more from consumers’ pockets, experts say.
This is especially true in Tennessee.
In the Volunteer State, each person is spending 7.2 percent more for medicine, about $1,273 a year, according to a BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee report released in January.
The average Tennessean filled about 17 prescriptions in 2006, down from 18 prescriptions the year before.
“More is not always better for health, nor is it affordable,” BlueCross’ “Inside Tennessee’s Medicine Cabinet” report states.
Linda Onks, of Dayton, Tenn., knows about the high cost of prescriptions.
The 57-year old retiree had surgery in 1997 to remove a malformation in the back of her head, but nerve damage afterward left her in terrible pain, she said. Before doctors performed a second surgery last year to deaden the nerves, Ms. Onks was on a lot of medicines, some of which her commercial insurance would not cover.
“I had to go without one of the medications because of the cost. ... They just told me it was absolutely too expensive to pay for, and they wouldn’t fill it,” she said.
Prescription costs are one part of overall health care spending in the United States, which grew by 6.7 percent in 2006 to $7,026 per person, compared with $356 per person in 1970, according to the most recent census data.
Hospital, physician and clinical services accounted for the bulk of health spending in 2006, according to census data.
Tennesseans are among the nation’s top prescription drug users — No. 2 — but they are not alone in the fight to afford medications.
Nationally, the average American fills 11.8 prescriptions yearly at a cost of almost $949 per capita, and government estimates indicate spending on medications will rise from an estimated $275 billion this year to nearly $500 billion a year within a decade.
Many industry groups, including BlueCross and TennCare, the state’s health plan for the poor, have begun to push generic medications to save money for consumers and payers. Generic dispensing rates in Tennessee rose from 37.7 percent in 2001 to 61.8 percent in 2007, said BlueCross spokeswoman Mary Thompson.
The generic drugs cost 30 percent to 80 percent less than the same brand-name drugs.
Staff writer Emily Bregel contributed to this story.
BY THE NUMBERS
Prescription use per capita 2006:
West Virginia — 17.4
Tennessee — 16.9
Kentucky — 16.6 Alabama — 16.3
Arkansas — 14.6
Mississippi — 14.3 N
orth Carolina — 13.3 South Carolina — 13
Georgia — 12
United States — 11.8
Virginia — 11.1
Source: 2007-2009 Novartis Pharmacy Benefit Report, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee
Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...