Thursday, May 15, 2008

Over-medicating Chronic Conditions?

[Welcome BusinessWeek readers!]

I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. But I do take a lot of medical histories as part of the pre-screening process in evaluating risk and guiding clients through the underwriting maze.

One thing that always amazes me are the number of meds used by individuals, especially at younger ages.

Many of these individuals have been on copay plans where there were no financial barriers to accessing primary care including maintenance meds. If you are covered by an employer plan, and the employer pays a substantial portion of the premium, it is easy to develop a copay mentality toward health care.

In a fast pace society, we want a quick fix and one that is financially painless.

What could be easier than a 7 minute visit with the doc who flips through your chart, writes a script and sends you on your way. Total cost for the office visit is $20. Add another $20 for the "latest & greatest" wonder drug and you are back to your old self.

Or are you?

Most medications do not provide a cure, but either mask symptoms or keep them in check. Many times a cure lies in a lifestyle change, such as losing weight, exercising more, or both.

A recent study by Medco indicates that "51 percent of insured Americans were taking prescription drugs to treat at least one chronic health problem."

This is a staggering statistic.

Surprisingly, nearly half (48 percent) of women ages 20-44 are being treated for a chronic condition, as compared to one third of men their age. Antidepressants are the most commonly used medication among this group, with 16 percent of 20-44 year-old women taking them. This demographic also claimed the sharpest increases in the number of patients on chronic medications, rising more than 20 percent between 2001 and 2007.

Is Prozac Nation a reality?

Treatments for high cholesterol and high blood pressure were the top medications used by the general population, with more than one-in-five people on antihypertensives and almost one-in-seven on cholesterol-lowering drugs, according to the research that reviewed prescription claims of some 2.5 million insured Americans. These were also among the top four medications taken by 20-44 year-old men, whose use of cholesterol drugs surged more than 80 percent over a seven year period.

Anxiety, depression, hypertension, high cholesterol.

All conditions that can, in many cases, be controlled or cured by exercise.

One of the least expensive (and most effective) ways to reduce health care costs is to make lifestyle changes and give meds the boot.
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