While the data set is complicated, these findings seem to support what many people already know - prescription drugs are too expensive, and the cost of health care is outpacing the financial resources of many Americans. The fact that doctors write fewer prescriptions when they know their patients will be asked to share more of the cost is especially revealing, since it seems to underscore the idea that doctors are just as "stuck" as patients when it comes to figuring out how to balance outstanding care with the reality of personal finances.
The Journal of the American Medical Association reports that as companies and insurance carriers shift more of the cost of prescription medicines onto the consumer, the rates of prescribed treatments and patient compliance with medicine dosing both decline. More specificially, the study found that, "increased cost-sharing was associated with lower rates of drug treatment, lower adherence rates and more frequent discontinuation of therapy. For each 10-percent increase in cost-sharing, prescription-drug spending went down by 2 percent to 6 percent."
The study examined certain cardiovascular diseases specifically and found mixed results. While the same overall trends held for people with diseases like high blood pressure, in some cases these patients actually utilized more medical services (clinic visits, checkups, etc). While the study does not explore the long term reasons for this, it is possible that patients are taking less medicine at home and compensating by making more frequent visits to the doctor, where the costs are more fixed. The study also notes that the long term health effects of these changes are unknown.