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Lack of Prescription Coverage Among the Under 65: A Symptom of Underinsurance

Prescription drugs are playing an increasingly greater role in the health care delivery system: not only are more Americans using prescription medicines than ever before, but the number of prescriptions per user has increased as has the number of days of therapy per prescription. Between 1977 and 1998, the proportion of Americans taking at least one prescription rose from 58 to 66 percent and the average number of prescriptions per person more than doubled. The daily cost of using drugs also has increased due to the higher cost of new drug therapies, inflation in the cost of older drugs, and a change in the mix of drugs prescribed.

Recent examinations of national health expenditures find that spending on prescription drugs rose 15.3 percent in 2002, to $162 billion. In 2002, expenditures on prescription drugs accounted for 12.1 percent of personal health care spending, up from 8.6 percent in 1988. Since 1993, average annual rates of growth for spending on drugs have been 10 percent or greater, with growth in spending on drugs leading all other health care services in 2001 and 2002.

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Lack of Prescription Coverage Among the Under 65: A Symptom of Underinsurance, Claudia L Schur, Michelle M. Doty, and Marc L. Berk, The Commonwealth Fund, February 2004