Working-age adults struggle with drug costs

It’s not just senior citizens who have trouble paying for prescription drugs. A new report from the Center for Studying Health System Change has found that increasing numbers of working-age American adults are going without prescription medication because they can’t afford the cost.

In 2003, one in 10 children and working-age adults skipped a medication because of the cost. In 2007, this jumped to one in seven, the survey found. The data were collected from the center’s 2007 Health Tracking Household Survey.

The rising cost of prescription drugs, coupled with shrinking drug coverage by health plans, were the main reasons why younger people are having increasing difficulty affording their medications, the report’s authors said.

The authors called it a "troublesome" trend, noting that prescription drugs are often an important component in health, especially in managing chronic conditions.

Moreover, patients who go without needed prescription drugs may experience worsening health and expensive complications. The most vulnerable people – those with low incomes, chronic conditions and the uninsured - continue to face the greatest unmet prescription drug needs. Yet, between 2003 and 2007, higher-income adults and those without chronic conditions experienced percentage point increases in unmet needs nearly as large as those with lower incomes and chronic conditions, respectively. This signals that prescription drugs are becoming more expensive for everyone and that insurance coverage provides less financial protection against out-of-pocket drug spending than it did in the past.

The report’s authors noted that the situation is likely to get worse as the economy deteriorates.

Among the survey’s specific findings:

- Although the largest increase in unmet prescription drug needs occurred among uninsured working-age Americans, working-age adults with employer-sponsored insurance also were feeling the pinch. The study found that 10.7 percent of working adults with employer-sponsored insurance reported going without a prescription drug in 2007, compared to 8.7 percent just four years earlier.

- Uninsured working-age adults (ages 19-64) with one or more chronic conditions were the worst off; two-thirds reported going without a prescription drug because they couldn’t afford it.

- Children are less likely than adults to need prescription medication. Nevertheless, in 2007 an estimated 3.9 million American children didn’t receive medication they needed because of the cost.

Regional dental clinic meets a need

During its first year, the Rice Regional Dental Clinic at Rice Memorial Hospital had 6,207 patient visits and completed 13,311 procedures, ranging from fillings to extractions.

Even before the clinic opened, health officials knew there was a need for dental services for low-income and uninsured people who had nowhere else to go. But the demand has been even higher than anticipated.

The Rice Regional Dental Clinic is a partnership between Rice Hospital and the University of Minnesota. Dentistry and dental hygiene students from the university come here to complete a rural rotation, during which their skills are sharpened and they have a chance to experience firsthand what it’s like in a rural dental practice.

Over the past 12 months, students were on site for 219 days. On an average day, they saw between 25 and 30 patients. The largest patient category is children and teenagers. Most of these patients have dental insurance through either MinnesotaCare or Medical Assistance, both of which are publicly funded.

Although the majority of patients are from Willmar, they also come from as far away as Detroit Lakes, Moorhead, Mankato and St. Peter.

State and federal grants, plus an allocation from the Minnesota Legislature through the state bonding bill, helped launch the clinic and training program and fund it for the first three years. Hospital officials reported recently that the revenue from patients has been higher than projected, which will help the program somewhat decrease its reliance on grant money.

Invasion of the bedbugs

Bedbug infestations are on the rise across the United States – even in rural Minnesota, where four cases have been reported recently in Worthington, the Worthington Daily Globe reports.

Three of the infestations occurred in rental property; the fourth was in a local motel, which had to be fumigated.

Jason Kloss, sanitarian for Nobles-Rock Community Health Services, said bedbugs often spread on mattresses, furniture, clothing and luggage.

"Never pick up furniture or mattresses from the side of the street – that is the first lesson to be learned here," said Kloss, who investigated all four of the reported bedbug infestations. "Simply picking one up because you need a mattress is not a good plan at all. The infestation may be very evident on the mattress (or box spring) or it may not be."

To see what bedbugs look like, here’s a video. (Warning: don’t click on the link if you’re easily creeped out by bugs.)

Bedbugs usually hide during the day and emerge at night to feast on their human hosts. They rarely transmit disease, but their bites can cause itching and redness and, rarely, a more widespread skin reaction or allergic reaction. You can find out more about these pests and how to deal with them at the Mayo Clinic’s Web site.