- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 18, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - With many people not taking medications as prescribed, health care experts are turning to everything from financial incentives to text messages to get patients to follow their doctors’ orders.

National health care organizations, state officials and others gathered at the Legislature on Tuesday to share ideas about improving medication adherence and controlling health care costs.

Joel White, executive director of the Council for Affordable Health Coverage, said national surveys have shown that two-thirds of patients don’t take their medications as prescribed, and more than one-fifth of new prescriptions are never filled.

“Pills don’t work unless you take them,” he said.

State Health Officer Don Williamson said patients who don’t adhere to their doctors’ orders for prescriptions usually have more emergency room visits and hospital admissions, which run up health care costs. He said the state Medicaid program spends $500 million annually on prescriptions and improving medication adherence is critical to controlling the program’s rising costs.

Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League, said more than $290 billion in medical costs each year are the result of people not following their doctors’ orders for medication. Her organization and many others are involved in the Script Your Future campaign to try to educate people that taking prescriptions as prescribed will lead to better health outcomes and avoid costly problems from not taking medication, she said.

She said reasons for not taking medication include concerns about side effects, not being convinced of the need, forgetfulness, out-of-pocket costs and no time to refill prescriptions.

Democratic state Sen. Billy Beasley, a pharmacist from Clayton, said people with concerns about a prescription can always talk to their pharmacist at no cost. “Throughout my pharmacy career I’ve always been engaged with my patients,” he said.

Ideas shared at the meeting included text message reminders to take medication and carrying a card in a wallet with prescriptions, amounts and times to take prescribed medications. Others included financial incentives for compliance and having patients renew all prescriptions on the same day each month to avoid confusion.

William Ashmore, chief executive of the State Employees Insurance Board, said it is following up on patients who may not be taking the medication they need. He said if a person is treated for a heart attack, but then is not filing claims for the prescriptions that normally follow a heart attack, the insurance program follows up to see what’s going on. Last year, the effort resulted in 5,400 cases being reviewed, he said.

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