Press Releases

2000 Releases

US Seniors Bear Drug Cost Hardship Compared to Similar Nations

For immediate release: May 08, 2000 

Boston, MA--An international survey of five government sponsored health care programs for the elderly, including Medicare in the United States, revealed that a majority of elderly were generally satisfied with the quality, affordability, and availability of their health services. Still, most seniors would like to see major changes in their health care systems to make them work better, according to the study in today's Health Affairs.

In the US, while 25 percent of seniors said Medicare worked well and that only minor changes would be necessary to make it work better, 44 percent said there are good things in our health care system, but fundamental changes are needed to improve it. Twenty-six percent of US respondents favored a completely rebuilt Medicare system.

The survey of seniors from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States weighed six issues: overall system view, access to and costs of care, variations in prescription drug coverage, perceptions of quality of care, caregiving and home care, and future concerns.

Compared with other nations, the survey revealed the US has a significantly greater proportion of its elderly population with no drug coverage at all and a greater proportion paying high out-of-pocket expenses for prescription drugs. Fully 32 percent of U.S. elderly reported having no drug coverage. Twenty percent of US respondents paid $50-$100 per month out-of-pocket for drugs, and 16 percent paid more than $100 per month. By contrast, fewer than 5 percent of the elderly in the other four nations experienced costs of more than $100 per month.

Of the US seniors who reported high out-of-pocket drug expenses in 1999 (more than $100 per month), 15 percent reported not filling a prescription because they could not afford it, 18 percent reported having problems paying medical bills, and 29 percent reported having problems meeting daily living expenses.

"Given the current US debate over Medicare prescription drug coverage, the survey data have special relevance," write the authors. "Elderly Americans clearly lag behind their counterparts in other nations. In all other countries surveyed the vast majority of the populations have at least some coverage and very low out-of-pocket spending for prescription drugs."

The study, titled "The Elderly in Five Nations: The Importance of Universal Coverage," was conducted by Karen Donelan and Robert Blendon of the Harvard Opinion Research Program at the Harvard School of Public Health, the Commonwealth Fund and Harris Interactive, Inc.

For further information, please contact:

Robin Herman
Director of Communications
677 Huntington Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts 02115
Phone: 617-432-4752
Email: rherman@hsph.harvard.edu