Life-Saving Benefits

You can scrimp on food, clothes, entertainment and other expenses in a pinch, but when it comes to your asthma medication, if you forego the treatment you need, you could be giving up essential life-saving benefits, the experts suggest.

As many as 20,000 Americans 1are diagnosed with asthma today, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. This is one out of about every 15 Americans. When left untreated, this chronic condition can also lead to serious or even life threatening, complications. In fact, a total of 11 people in this country die each day from asthma2. And many more die from other causes that can in fact be related to this condition. But with proper management, many of these deaths can be avoided.

Cost Barrier

The good news is that many effective asthma treatments are currently available. But the bad news is that for people struggling to make ends meet, the high price of these medications may make them out of reach. In fact, a recent survey of health costs conducted by the Urban Institute found that a shocking 43 percent of asthma patients could not afford the recommended treatment.3 Further, uninsured patients are most likely to fall through the cracks. This is particularly worrisome when you realize that one out of every six people diagnosed with asthma has no health insurance.4 Even many patients who do have adequate health insurance, though, are struggling just to meet the high co-pays for the treatments their doctors recommend.

So you may wonder what all of this means to your situation. Researchers from the Urban Institute’s health costs survey mentioned above estimate that an asthma patient can spend as much as $4,900 a year on this condition. This accounts for asthma treatment costs, lost productivity and medication costs, with the medication accounting for about half – or close to $2,500 -- of the total amount.5

If spending in this range sounds high for asthma medication, keep in mind that the average asthma patient may need to use as many as three inhalers and/or medications to keep symptoms under control and to treat flare ups when they occur. These controller inhalers can cost as much as $100 depending on what you get, according to some estimates. Making a bad situation even worse is that with the new official switch to using a more ecologically-friendly type of inhaler now in place, no generic options currently exist, causing a further burden on patients who are already struggling to pay for such medications.

A Dangerous Scenario

As asthma treatment costs continue to rise, some asthma patients are rationing their medication, saving them for emergency situations rather than using them preventatively. This concern greatly worries public health officials. Consider a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which revealed that rising co-pays are prompting people with asthma to cut back on their medication use by about one third.6

This under usage of asthma medication can be dangerous, putting asthma patients are risk to experience complications. It can also actually increase your out-of-pocket expense, since without proper management, asthma can easily worsen and you could end up spending a great deal more for additional medical expenses.

If you find yourself unable to afford the treatment you need, experts recommend talking to your doctor to find out what options exist. You may be able to get some samples of your medications to help keep your costs lower. In addition, some states offer drug assistance programs that can help you get the treatment you need without going broke.


1. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Asthma Overview, updated in 2005. (

2. New Asthma Estimates: Tracking Prevalence, Health Care and Mortality,” NCHS, CDC, 2001 (Taken from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation’s Asthma Facts and Figures at

3. 2005 Health Costs Survey, sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Harvard School of Public Health, and USA Today. (

4. This information comes from a 2005 study prepared by the Urban Institute and the University of Maryland , Baltimore County . (To see the Urban Institute’s most recent research on health care issues, go to

5. 2005 Health Costs Survey (listed in number iii).

6. Journal of American Medical Association, 291:2344-2350. Pharmacy Benefits and the Use of Drugs by the Chronically Ill, Dana P. Goldman, PhD; Geoffrey F. Joyce, PhD; Jose J. Escarce, MD, PhD; Jennifer E. Pace, BS; Matthew D. Solomon, MA; Marianne Laouri, PhD; Pamela B. Landsman, MPH, DrPH; Steven M. Teutsch, MD, MPH. (