Study: Blacks, Latinos Hard Hit by Rising Drug Prices

January 2, 2004 ( - While the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs has been a systemwide crisis in recent years, a new study finds it is particularly problematic for working-age African Americans and Latinos.

The study by health-research group Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC) found that African Americans and Latinos with chronic ailments such as diabetes or heart disease, in particular, are more likely not be able to afford their prescriptions and to decide to go without.

Nearly one in five blacks (20%) and one in six Latinos (16%) 18 to 64 years old did not purchase at least one prescription drug in the last 12 months because they couldn’t afford it, according to the study. That compares with slightly more than one in 10 whites (11%), the study found.

“Surprisingly, the biggest disparities in access to affordable prescription drugs were among privately insured blacks, Latinos and whites-rather than among the uninsured,” said HSC President Paul Ginsburg, in a news release. “Rising copayments and coinsurance for prescription drugs may undercut efforts to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in access to health care because privately insured African Americans and Latinos – especially people with chronic conditions – already have more problems affording prescriptions.”

According to the study, privately insured working-age African Americans and Latinos were about twice as likely as whites to report they did not fill all of their prescriptions in 2001. For example, about 20% of privately insured African Americans and Latinos with at least one chronic condition reported they could not afford to fill a prescription in the previous year, compared with about one in 10 privately insured whites with at least one chronic condition.

Those with more than one chronic conditions had a particularly severe problem affording their prescriptions. The gap between blacks and whites was 5% for those with no chronic conditions, 12 points for those with one condition and 15 points for people with multiple conditions. Similar, though generally smaller, gaps were found for Latinos as well.

Other findings include:

  • Whites with chronic ailments didn’t escape being affected by drug costs. Uninsured whites, blacks and Latinos – particularly those living with chronic health problems – were all highly likely to report problems affording prescription drugs. For example, about 50% of the uninsured in each group with one or more chronic conditions didn’t purchase all of their prescriptions in 2001 because of cost.
  • More than 35% of blacks and 30% of Latinos with multiple chronic conditions did not purchase all of their prescriptions in 2001 because of cost, compared with slightly more than 20% of whites.
  • Working-age people with public insurance, including Medicaid and Medicare, were more likely than privately insured people to report problems affording prescription drugs. In particular, publicly insured African Americans living with chronic conditions were much more likely than whites or Latinos to have problems affording all of their prescriptions.

The study is based on HSC’s Community Tracking Study 2001 Household Survey, a nationally representative poll involving about 60,000 people, including approximately 37,000 white, Latino and African Americans 18 to 64 years old. For more information, go to