SPOKANE, Wash. — A national study published in the July issue of “The American Journal of Public Health” suggests that 1.3 million adults with disabilities do not take their medications as prescribed because they cannot afford to, and more than half report resulting health problems. Principal investigator Jae Kennedy, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Administration at Washington State University Spokane, says, “the analysis shows how drug costs are affecting the health behavior of one of the most vulnerable populations in this country, adults with disabilities.”

One of the key study findings indicate that most of the adults with disabilities who reported cost-associated noncompliance were under age 65. “About 63 percent of respondents did not receive Medicare, and would not be helped by any of the competing Congressional proposals to create a prescription drug benefit,” said Kennedy. “Medication affordability is a real problem for many people with chronic illness or disability, regardless of age or program participation status.”

The analysis, conducted with Chris Erb at the University of Illinois, Urbana, used data from the 1994 and 1995 National Health Interview Surveys to estimate national rates of prescription noncompliance due to cost and resulting health problems. Kennedy said that the surveys used in the analysis are somewhat dated, and may underestimate the scope of the problem.

“Drug costs have skyrocketed in the period since this data was collected, potentially threatening the health and economic security of many more people with and without disabilities,” the WSU Spokane researcher said.

Adults with disabilities are a population known to be heavy users of health care, including prescription drugs. Noncompliance with prescription regimens is a widely recognized clinical problem, particularly for treatment of chronic illnesses like hypertension, and medication noncompliance has been identified as an important predictor of emergency room visits and hospital admissions.

Department of Health Policy and Administration Web site: hpa.spokane.wsu.edu
WSU Spokane: www.spokane.wsu.edu
American Journal of Public Health: www.ajph.org
Abstract of Kennedy article: www.ajph.org/cgi/content/abstract/92/7/1120 (full text not available online without AJPH subscription or payment per article)