Prescription medications used to treat chronic or long-term conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease are a part of everyday life in many American households. But how has prescription medication usage changed with the emergence of the pandemic?

Recent CivicScience poll results reveal the picture of maintenance prescription drug use in the U.S. has shifted dramatically. The number of U.S. adults who report taking at least one prescription medication per day is now 70%, a 14 percentage-point increase from 2019 data

Additionally, the percentage of people taking four or more medications daily has increased by six percentage points, from 18% to 24%. An increasing number of prescriptions equals less and less wiggle room in budgets already tightened due to inflationary prices. 

America’s Balancing Act: Pitting Health Against Expenses

With more Americans relying on multiple prescription medications daily, the realities of rising costs are hitting home for Americans in both their wallets and, in turn, their overall health. The latest CivicScience data show nearly one-quarter (24%) of U.S. adults prescribed prescription medication have skipped taking medication due to cost in the past year – further increases are likely starting this month as drugmakers prepare to raise prices on more than 350 drugs.

Income level plays a role, and those affected most by prescription drug costs are likely to skew lower income. Among those who are prescribed medication, almost one-third (31%) making under $35K had to skip their medication at some point over the past year because of the cost. That said, income level doesn’t guarantee affordability, as even one-fifth (21%) of $75k-$125k earners opted not to take medication because of its cost. 

Some help is on the way, but not for another two to three years.

New CivicScience data show 31% of Americans taking three or more daily prescriptions rely on government-assisted insurance, up three percentage points from 2019. Age is likely a driving factor, as 37% of 55+ year-olds report taking four or more prescriptions daily. 

Help is on the way for some due to the Inflation Reduction Act, just not immediately. The law allows Medicare to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical manufacturers for 10 more costly drugs starting in 2026. It also moves to cap out-of-pocket prescription drug costs at $2,000 for medicare part D plans, but the provision doesn’t kick in until 2025. 

The pandemic has magnified and shifted all aspects of healthcare. Studies find COVID-19 infections may also increase the risk of developing chronic conditions, such as diabetes, later in life, a development that would likely strain American wallets and the healthcare system further. CivicScience will continue to monitor trends in the healthcare industry in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

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