Dr. Andrew R. Barnosky is an Associate Professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine and the former Chair of the Adult Ethics Committee for the University of Michigan Hospitals and Health Centers. In the College of Literature, Sciences, and the Arts, he is the director of the Health Sciences Scholars Program for undergraduate students. He is a graduate of the A. T. Still University of Health Sciences - College of Osteopathic Medicine (Missouri), and holds a master's degree (MPH) in public health and health policy from the Harvard School of Public Health.
Page not found
Dr. Melissa Constantine, PhD was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow, CBSSM, 2011-2013.
Because of the high cost of many prescription drugs, some people take fewer pills than prescribed. What are the health implications?
Imagine that four months ago, you started getting chest pains whenever you exerted yourself physically, and at the time you decided this was serious enough to see a doctor. After your doctor examined you and ran some tests, you were told that you have angina, a kind of heart disease. This disease can develop when the coronary arteries become narrow and clogged from high cholesterol and the heart can't get the oxygen that it needs. Your doctor helped you plan some lifestyle changes to treat your condition. You have been very devoted to the new way of life, eating healthier and doing the proper kinds of exercise regularly. Also, part of your treatment involves regularly taking the medication that your doctor prescribed for you. You were told to take one pill each day.
- I would take the pill every day as prescribed.
- I would skip some days to save some money.
How do your answers compare?
You have to save money somehow, right? Perhaps you would just have to cut back on other expenses in your life, but apparently you felt the medication had to be taken as prescribed. Research has found, however, that especially among the elderly, a significant portion of the population reports restricting medications due to cost. An important question is whether this leads to adverse health outcomes. Policy debates have been largely divided on this issue.
Do those who restrict their medications due to cost experience adverse health outcomes?
A research team led by Dr. Michele Heisler and Dr. Kenneth Langa conducted a study to investigate this question. Prior to this study, no one had examined this question by studying the same individuals at different points in time to see if those who restricted medication due to cost were more likely to develop adverse health outcomes. The researchers obtained nationally representative data that was the result of nearly 8000 interviews. Each respondent was interviewed in 1995 or 1996 and then re-interviewed in 1998. At both times, individuals were asked about cost-related medication restriction and about their health. The health questions assessed overall health, angina and other cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, arthritis, and depression.
The researchers found that cost-related medication restriction was associated with almost twice the odds of experiencing a significant decline in overall health. The association between restricting medication due to cost and poor health outcomes was strongest for those who had cardiovascular disease. Of these individuals, those who restricted their medication had a 50% increased odds of suffering angina and a 51% increased odds of having a stroke. Aren't you glad on the previous page you said you wouldn't restrict your angina medication?
Those who had arthritis or diabetes and restricted their medication due to cost did not report worse disease-related outcomes at the second interview. For arthritis, this might have been because of equally effective over-the-counter pain medications, and for diabetes, higher rates of kidney disease would likely require a longer period of follow-up to detect. When looking at age as a factor, the results showed that older adults experienced significant declines in overall health, worse cardiovascular outcomes, and increased depression. The study showed that younger people who restrict are also at risk for a decline in their health.
One limitation of this study is the lack of data about how often individuals restricted medications. If an individual restricted only once or twice, it is not clinically plausible that this would have led to an adverse health outcome. Also, the data on health outcomes were self-reported, and thus subject to bias. Previous studies, however, have shown excellent agreement between medical records and self-reports for conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, and stroke.
Implications on policy
This study provides evidence that, contrary to some claims, adults with chronic illnesses who restrict medications due to cost experience adverse health outcomes. As drug costs continue to escalate and individuals continue to lack full prescription coverage from their health insurance, it will be increasingly important for healthcare systems and physicians to develop strategies to screen patients for cost-related underuse of medications and to provide assistance to these patients. Moreover, insurance companies will need to create benefit packages that provide appropriate coverage, taking into account the cost of prescription medications.
For more information see:
Michele Heisler, Kenneth M. Langa, Elizabeth L. Eby, A. Mark Fendrick, Mohammed U. Kabeto, John D. Piette. The Health Effects of Restricting Prescription Medication Use Because of Cost. Medical Care, 42(7). 2004.
CBSSM recently hosted the 2014 Research Colloquium held Thursday, May 15, 2014 at the Vandenberg Meeting Hall (2nd floor), The Michigan League, 911 N. University Ave, Ann Arbor, MI 48109.
The CBSSM Research Colloquium featured the Bishop Lecture in Bioethics as the keynote address. Myra Christopher presented the Bishop Lecture with a talk entitled: "The Moral Imperative to Transform the Way Pain is Perceived, Judged and Treated." Myra Christopher holds the Kathleen M. Foley Chair in Pain and Palliative Care at the Center for Practical Bioethics. The Bishop Lecture is made possible by a generous gift from the estate of Ronald C. and Nancy V. Bishop.
The 2014 Research Colloquium presenters included:
- Andrew G. Shuman, MD, Assistant Professor, Department of Otolaryngology, University of Michigan: "When Not to Operate: The Dilemma of Surgical Unresectability"
- Phoebe Danziger, MD, University of Michigan Medical School: "Beliefs, Biases, and Ethical Dilemmas in the Perinatal Counseling and Treatment of Severe Kidney Anomalies"
- Kathryn L. Moseley, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor, Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases, University of Michigan: "Electronic Medical Records: Challenges for Clinical Ethics Consultation"
- Helen Morgan, MD, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Michigan: "Academic Integrity in the Pre-Health Undergraduate Experience"
- Tanner Caverly, MD, MPH, Health Services Research Fellow, Ann Arbor VA Medical Center and Clinical Lecturer, University of Michigan: "How Transparent are Cancer Screening & Prevention Guidelines about the Benefits and Harms of What They Recommend?"
- Susan D. Goold, MD, MHSA, MA , Professor of Internal Medicine and Health Management and Policy, School of Public Health, University of Michigan: "Controlling Health Costs: Physician Responses to Patient Expectations for Medical Care"
Patients sometimes skip treatments because they just feel too busy. What should physicians do when their patients ignore their recommendations?
Imagine you are a businessperson who works long hours and you are on your way up to having a successful and lucrative career. You have a major business deal that will consume nearly all of your time over the upcoming month and your boss is relying on you to make sure the deal goes through. This is your chance to really make your mark and show your corporation that you are the kind of person that can handle deals as big as this one. Also suppose you have been smoking on and off for 25 years. You know it's a bad habit that could destroy your lungs, but you just can't quite kick it. Lately, you have been feeling tired, you have been experiencing chest pains when you are really busy at work and when you exercise, and you have had trouble breathing when climbing a flight of stairs. The chest pains are usually relieved by a little rest, but you decide it's time to get this examined by a doctor.
One day after work, you go to see Dr. Coral, who gives you a stress test and determines that you'll need an appointment for an angiogram to better evaluate your coronary arteries. Fortunately, you find one free day right before things get hectic at work, so you schedule the angiogram. Now imagine you have just had the angiogram and you are recovering in a paper gown waiting for Dr. Coral to come back with the results. Dr. Coral enters the room to speak with you and he has a serious look on his face. He says,
"I have both good and bad news for you. The angiogram shows that your 3 main coronary arteries are all severely blocked. The good news is that we caught this before you had a major heart attack."
"The bad news is that I am recommending you have triple bypass surgery as soon as possible. Your heart is working overtime, and it is just a matter of time until it gives out."
- I would put aside Dr. Coral's recommendation and instead take responsibility at work for the current deal. I'll wait to have surgery in about a month.
- I would follow Dr. Coral's recommendation by having surgery immediately, even though this forfeits the current opportunity at work.
A little feedback on what you chose.
- understand the information about the condition and the choices available;
- make a judgment about the information in keeping with his or her personal values and beliefs;
- understand the potential outcomes or consequences of different choices; and
- freely communicate his or her wishes
From 1978 to 2009, Ed was head of the U-M Health System Legal Office. In 2009 he moved into the Medical School Department of ObGyn as an Associate Professor to work full-time on issues of sexual rights and reproductive justice. He has teaching appointments in the Medical School, the School of Public Health, the Law School, and LSA Women's Studies. He teaches courses on the legal and ethical aspects of medicine at the Medical School, the rules of human subjects research at the School of Public Health and reproductive justice in LSA and the Law School.. In 2011, Ed went to Ghana and helpe
Do you think that your life is worth more than the amount that the government usually uses as the maximum to spend to provide one year of life?
Imagine that you are a member of a government panel that is trying to decide how cost-effective a medical treatment must be in order for the government to cover the costs of the treatment. Suppose that a certain treatment could provide one additional year of life to an otherwise healthy person. What is the highest amount the government should be willing to pay per person for this treatment?
How do your answers compare?
For the past twenty years, the figure most often used as the maximum amount to spend to provide one year of life has been $50,000. This figure was originally proposed since it was the cost of a year of kidney dialysis, a lifesaving treatment that the U.S. government funds in Medicare.
Should the number be higher or lower than the current standard?
Conventional wisdom would suggest that the number be higher to take into account the inflation that has occurred in the years since the standard was developed. Current practices such as annual Pap smear screening for women with low risk for cervical cancer, which has a cost of $700,000 per year of life gained, also suggest that society is willing to pay more than the current standard for a year of life. The authors of the cited article recommend, based on current treatment practices and surveys of the general public, that the cost-effectiveness threshold should be revised to be around $200,000.
Should the number increase, decrease, or stay the same over time?
Again, it seems that the threshold amount should increase over time due to inflation. However, other factors come in to play that affect the value.
Since new technologies are emerging all the time, some of which will be deemed cost-effective, there will be more and more treatments to be offered in the future. Also, the rate of use of treatments is an important consideration, because even if a new treatment is more cost-effective than an old one, if it is used more often it will end up costing more to society overall. With more treatments becoming available and more people being given treatments, the threshold cost will probably have to decrease so that insurance companies and the government can keep up with the increasing availability and demand.
Why is this important?
Insurance companies and government health care entities face a continuing struggle when trying to determine which medical treatments to cover. Health care costs are increasing rapidly, so these groups will be facing even tougher decisions in the future. Establishing cost-effectiveness guidelines would be extremely helpful as an aid to making the decisions about treatment coverage. Evidence shows that the current threshold is probably not an accurate reflection of the desires of society or actual prescribing practices. It needs to be adjusted to become useful once again, and must be reevaluated periodically to make sure the value keeps up with trends in the health care market, rather than being left alone without question for two decades as is the current situation.
For more information see:
Ubel PA, Hirth RA, Chernew ME, Fendrick AM. What is the price of life and why doesn't it increase at the rate of inflation? Archives of Internal Medicine. 163:1637-1641, 2003.
Joseph joined CBSSM as a Research Area Specialist in November 2017. As a project manager, he coordinates the daily operations of Dr. Jeffrey Kullgren’s project “Provider, Patient, and Health System Effects of Provider Commitments to Choose Wisely,” a grant funded research project using novel approaches to reduce the overuse of low-value services in healthcare.