NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Should the Drug Industry Pay for Our Bad Habits?

February 18, 2004

Although many Americans don't get the medicines they need, as a nation, we are fast becoming overly reliant on a slew of drugs that essentially substitute for a healthy lifestyle, says health policy analyst Steven Findlay.

This over-reliance has added to the steeply rising national tab for prescription drugs:

  • U.S. pharmacies dispensed more than 3 billion prescriptions in 2003, up from about 2 billion a decade ago.
  • The cost of the Medicare drug benefit has already riser from the initial projection of $400 billion to $534 billion, even as the AARP [formerly the American Association of Retired Persons] and others begin to push to expand the new benefit.
  • Statins (cholesterol lowering drugs) are among the most widely prescribed medicines; sales topped $13 billion in 2002, up from $1.8 billion a decade earlier.

The drug industry notes that many medicines can save money by preventing hospitalizations or nursing-home care and reducing disability. However, growth in costs could be reduced sharply if more people took basic steps to maintain their health and so needed fewer drugs or other medical care, says Findlay.

Unless Americans, individually and collectively, begin to take more responsibility for their own health, the prescription drug tab may rise to a point where more serious limits will be imposed on our access to drugs, says the author.

Source: Steven Findlay, "Pill-popping replaces healthy habits," USA Today, February 5, 2004.

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