Bad economy leads to poor health behaviors

Half of people over 45 said in a recent AARP survey they’ve taken a generic drug or over-the-counter (OTC) medication instead of a prescription drug due to the current economic situation.

The AARP’s report, "Impact of the Economy on Health Behaviors," analyzes the survey responses of 820 Americans 45 years of age and older polled in October 2008.

Asked what health behaviors they may done as a result of the declining economy, the most common reactions among 45+ Americans were:

    * Taking a generic or OTC medication, 51%    * Delaying seeing a doctor, 22%    * Cutting back on other expenses, 21%    * Seeking assistance in getting prescription drugs at a lower cost, 21%.

Furthermore, 16% of older Americans say they’ve cut back on preventive care. The same proportion of people are using savings to pay for medical care. 14% of people aren’t filling doctors’ prescriptions due to the economy.

In all instances, these responses increase across-the-board for people with less than $250,000 in household income — in some instances, dramatically so. For example, for the lowest-income families (those with less than $25K in income), 67% opt for generics and OTC meds compared with 51% of the overall 45+ population. 33% delayed seeing a doctor or medical professional, compared with 22%.

Other differences in response to the economy manifest across age cohorts. For the oldest cohort, 65+, 29% of people sought assistance getting Rx at a lower cost compared with 21% of the overall sample. The youngest of the cohort, 45-54, has a higher propensity to delay seeing a doctor and cut back on preventive than older people. This younger cohort is also the most likely to say that cutting back had a negative impact on their health versus those aged 65 and older.

And over 45 year old females tend to adopt generics and OTCs more than their male counterparts due to the economic downturn.

Jane’s Hot Points: Older people consume more health services than younger people. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, women over 65 years of age tally more ambulatory visits to doctors than do men in the same age group: in 2005, the rate per 1,000 women was 7,731 compared to a rate of 7,050 for men.

For women age 45 to 64, women visit doctors 35% more than men in the same age cohort.

Combine this with the AARP finding that people in the young-old age cohort are delaying seeing doctors as well as cutting back on prevention as a result of the economy.

The result? Women’s health outcomes could decline in concert with the economy.

For more on women’s responses to economic decline, see my post earlier this month.

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4 replies »

  1. I looked through the report briefly and I didn’t see if they compared the results to data from previous surveys.
    Asking someone if they are cutting back now is pretty much worthless unless you have some sense as to the % of people cutting back say 5 years ago. Right now, many people say they are cutting back regardless if they really are or not.

  2. The “beef” is that older women are delaying visits to physicians and admitting to avoiding taking preventive care measures. Today’s news reveals that women aren’t getting access to the cardiac care they need when they have a heart attack based on a peer-reviewed study at Baylor University published in the journal, Circulation(http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/headline/metro/6154484.html). Women have had this cardiovascular health disparity for years; the fact that the economy may be driving some women to self-ration health care — particularly those in the lower income stratum — is beef enough for me.

  3. Personally, I’d rather be prescribed a generic when available – newer isn’t always better.(Can you say Vioxx?) Any medication, Rx or not, carries associated risks – generics usually have been around long enough so that most risks are known.
    It’s nice if you can get what you need for $4 at Walmart, but their list is quite constrained with respect to types of drugs offered and quantity dispensed. If your needs are different, you will pay full freight, unless you can get your provider to write multiple scripts you can take to more than one $4 pharmacy in order to meet your dosage requirements.
    Some OTC drugs sold under their generic name are much more price competitive than OTC brand names – go check Costco’s price on ceterizine, generic for Zyrtec. You need not be a Costco member to have Rxs filled there, and Costco often has the most competitive pricing. Some stores will give you certain Rx free – Meijer does this for some antibiotics.
    With respect to women seeking care at a higher rate than men – many of us have been well-trained to get annual Pap tests and mammograms. Some states (like IL) have programs that provide these services free or at reduced rates for those who cannot afford them.
    There are also other medical issues that women seek treatment for more readily than men, e.g. mental health, which likely contributes to higher utilization.
    I tend to agree with AnnR – nice sound bite, but where’s the beef?

  4. What does “take a generic or OTC medication instead of prescription drug” mean? Last I heard “generic” drugs were prescription drugs.
    I’m not going to think that health is suffering if people take drugs off the $4 list at Walmart instead of what ever the pharmacy company has repackaged at a higher price.
    I think this is an interesting study but would like to see if verified with facts that show that health has actually suffered.