New Study Details Decreased Medication Adherence in Medicaid Populations

July 25, 2012

Medicaid is missing out on a significant opportunity to improve health and lower costs, according to a new study.  Looking at Medicaid enrollees with conditions that can lead to heart disease, researchers found the number who failed to take their medicines is on the rise, according to a new study described in U.S. News and World Report and published in the Journal of Urban Health.  This is especially true of patients who battle diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol – leading risk factors for developing heart disease and other chronic diseases.

Failure to take medications as prescribed, as confirmed by study author Dr. Kelly Kyanko of New York University, leads to higher health care costs, increased hospitalizations and even a greater risk of death.  As part of the study, researchers analyzed “2008 and 2009 data from more than 150,000 Medicaid patients in New York City, aged 20 to 64, and found that only 63 percent of those with the three chronic conditions [diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol] took their prescribed medications.”

Kyanko indicated that for many patients simple measures can improve adherence, such as “switching to once-a-day or combination pills, keeping a pill box and obtaining 90-day refills instead of 30-day refills for medications they take on a regular basis.”  High-risk patients may benefits from more intensive assistance such as working with a pharmacist or nurse for support.  While the study zeroes in on New York patients specifically, poor medication adherence clearly represents a missed opportunity – both regionally and nationally – to better manage chronic conditions to not only improve health, but also lower costs. 

PFCD commends the authors of this study for reminding us that managing health risks and chronic conditions can make a significant difference.  Even small improvements in health outcomes can translate into large savings when it comes to soaring health care costs.