U-M Poll Shows Patients and Doctors Need to Talk More About Drug Costs

49% of older adults who said their drug costs were a burden had not talk to their doctor about costs.

The majority of Americans over age 50 take two or more prescription medicines to prevent or treat health problems, and many of them say the cost weighs on their budget, a new poll finds.

But many older adults aren’t getting – or asking for – as much help as they could from their doctors and pharmacists to find lower-cost options, the new data reveal.

This suggests an opportunity for health professionals and patients to talk more about drug costs, both in everyday interactions and in formal medication reviews that insurance may cover.

Conversations about cost matter

The data come from the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging, a new initiative based at the U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation and sponsored by AARP and Michigan Medicine.

“In many cases, patients assume that their doctors know how much their medications cost — but that’s not always the case,” says Preeti Malani, M.D., the university’s chief health officer and the director of the poll.

“Patients should ask about ways to reduce their costs, both during their doctor’s visits and at the pharmacy. And clinicians should be more proactive in starting conversations with patients about costs and, when it’s possible, to think about prescribing lower-cost alternatives.”

But she takes some comfort in another key finding: Two-thirds of patients who did talk to their doctor about drug costs got a recommendation for a lower-cost alternative. One-third got help from a pharmacist.

If the cost of medications is a problem for you or your family members, simply raising the issue of cost with your doctor or pharmacist can make a difference. 

Resources to lower costs for U-M drug plan members

The U-M prescription drug plan also provides resources and programs to lower costs. The MedImpact member portal can help you find the lowest-cost pharmacy option for your medications, while the plan formulary lists all covered drugs by category.

As part of a program that looks at total costs, members are contacted by MedImpact or their Michigan Medicine clinic pharmacist to discuss options to reduce out-of-pocket spending, where opportunities exist.

Another program targets medication effectiveness. Members who take five or more medications and are Michigan Medicine patients have the option to work with a pharmacist to review all their drugs together. This process looks at drug interaction, medication effectiveness and opportunities to consolidate medications.

Learn more

To learn more about the poll or prescription drug costs,