Cost of asthma treatments means many Australians go without

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  Last updated June 13, 2019 at 1:00 pm


An alarming number of Australians are skipping asthma treatment due to out-of-pocket costs.

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Out-of-pocket costs are causing asthma sufferers to skip doses or under-use their medication.

Half of all adults and a third of children with asthma are missing out on essential asthma treatment due to out-of-pocket costs, a new Australian study has found.

A team of researchers including medication expert, Libby Roughead from the University of South Australia, surveyed 1400 people with asthma, including adults and parents of children with asthma, about their medication use.

They found an alarming number of people were decreasing or skipping doses to make medicines last longer or delaying filling a prescription.

Two-thirds of asthma cases poorly controlled

In a paper published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, researchers say the results are especially concerning because around two thirds of adults and children have poorly controlled asthma symptoms.

Adults and asthmatic children who reported under-use have more asthma-related hospitalisations or incidents requiring urgent medical care.

“Asthma affects around one in nine Australians and is one of the world’s leading causes of death and disability,” says Roughead.

“We know that preventer inhalers can be incredibly effective at controlling symptoms and preventing people from being hospitalised or even from dying of asthma, yet our study has found that out-of-pocket costs are preventing Australians from accessing life-saving medicines.”

The most commonly prescribed preventer treatments for asthma contain inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) which, if taken regularly, reduce the severity of asthma and related deaths.

Steep co-payments for PBS medicines

Tracey-Lea Laba from The George Institute of Global Health says that Australia has a subsidy program that aims to help cover the cost of medication.

“Unlike many other countries, Australia has a national medicines subsidy program through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), but most patients still have a co-payment.”

“In Australia, patients with healthcare cards (pensioners, unemployed, single parents and people with a long-term disability) pay $6.50 per prescription. Everyone else – around 40 per cent of people with asthma – pays up to $40.30,” she says.

GPs unaware of cost concerns

The study found that young male adults were the most likely to under-use asthma treatments. This is compounded by GPs being largely unaware that out-of-pocket costs are a huge concern for many of their patients, or that some preventers had lower out-of-pocket costs for patients than others.

The study found that just under 53 percent and a little over 34 per cent of parents reported under-using asthma treatments due to cost. Three quarters of children and adults had partly or poorly controlled asthma symptoms.

About 40 per cent of adults with asthma had not used an ICS-containing medication in the previous year, despite Australian guidelines recommending that these should be taken by almost all adults with asthma.

They also found that 45 per cent of adults and 64 per cent of children had required urgent healthcare treatment for their asthma in the previous year.

While the researchers say that differences in income did not seem to decide whether people would under-use their inhalers, they did find that “working poor families” generally did have higher levels of under-using asthma medications.

With cost of living pressures hitting Australian families, the research team encourage patients and GPs to discuss the cost of their medicines, including the availability of lower cost preventative treatments.


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