Millions of Americans Skip Heart Medicine Because It Is Too Expensive, Study Shows

More than 2 million Americans in the United States who suffer from heart disease or stroke forego taking the medication their physicians prescribed because they can't afford them, an American Heart Association study showed.

The study, published Monday in the association's journal, Circulation, was based on survey responses taken between 2013 and 2017 from adults who participated in the National Health Interview Survey and who had been diagnosed with heart-related chest pain, stroke or coronary heart disease.

The survey found that one in eight adults are not taking their medication as it was prescribed by their doctor—whether skipping doses or delaying filling prescriptions—because they were worried about out-of-pocket costs. The findings appeared to be consistent regardless of race or ethnicity and educational attainment.

Age, however, appeared to play a critical role in whether a person purchased the medication they needed. Those younger than 65 were three times more likely to say they could not comfortably afford to follow their prescriptions to the letter. Those older than 65 often have Medicare to assist with medication costs.

"What these results really suggest is that our current financial for-profit insurance system is really failing those it was intended to protect from financial risk," Khurram Nasir, the lead author of the study, told Newsweek. "At one point, we are charging and shifting the burden of the cost to the patients."

According to Nasir, UnitedHealthcare, a for-profit health care company, has a $5 billion per quarter profit. That, he said, is a problem.

"So, in the end, who are they there to serve?" he asked. "Because if they're making $20 billion profit, why are our patients paying a lot of out-of-pocket costs?"

The financial problem illuminated by the survey's findings could be solved by implementing innovative public health care options, Nasir added.

"I think the need to seek alternates—public options such as Medicare for All or maybe even Medicare for high-risk patients, such as those with cardiovascular disease or cancer—doesn't seem too unrealistic in these circumstances," he told Newsweek.

Nasir said he wanted his fellow health care professionals to understand that they should be more willing to talk to their patients about the price of the medications they prescribe them. He said he has started to screen his patients for financial hardship, so that he can provide them with medication that will help them but not financially ruin them.

"This is a dogmatic conversation that we need to start having, because unless we ask how much cost matters to our patients, we may never know about it or find out how to improve it," he told Newsweek.

Lipitor, a cholesterol-lowering medication used to decrease the risk of stroke, heart attack, or other heart complications in people with coronary heart disease or type 2 diabetes. Rick Friedman/Getty