Securing the Benefits of Medical Innovation for Seniors: The Role of Prescription Drugs and Drug Coverage. Medical innovations are critical to seniors' quality of life

07/01/2002

Health experts point to advances in disease treatment and prevention as key factors in improving the health of older Americans.

  • In recent years, new drugs, medical procedures, screening tools, and prevention strategies have improved the treatment of chronic diseases, which affect 80 percent of all seniors. (CDC, NCCDPHP 1999)
  • Prescription drug use has dramatically increased in seniors, indicating that many are taking advantage of new medicines to improve their health and quality of life.

Average Number of Prescriptions per Medicare Beneficiary

Average Number of Prescriptions per Medicare<br />
			 Beneficiary

Note: The MCBS is believed to under-report the number of prescriptions received by Medicare beneficiaries.

Source: 1999 Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey (MCBS), non-institutionalized population only.

Over the past century, medical innovations, including new drugs, have altered not only the health status of Americans, but also the basic pattern of life in America and around the world:

  • Antibiotics and vaccines have drastically reduced the burden of infectious disease in America.
  • Readily available insulin transformed type 1 diabetes from a childhood death sentence to a chronic but manageable disease.
  • Gastric acid reducing agents, such as H2 blockers, revolutionized the treatment of gastric ulcers by eliminating the need for surgery.
  • Effective, tolerable psychiatric medications have made it possible for millions of Americans to lead normal lives, free from the extreme suffering caused by mental illness.
  • New technologies (such as coronary angioplasty, pacemakers, and cardiac stents) have enhanced quality of life among those suffering with chronic heart disease.

Often, the benefits from development of new drugs and technologies are additive. For example, a host of medical advances have combined to yield a 35 percent reduction in mortality from coronary heart disease and a 36 percent reduction in mortality from stroke since 1980. (See Chart 3)

Age-Adjusted Death Rates for Heart Disease & Cerebrovascular Disease

Age-Adjusted Death Rates for Heart Disease &<br />
			 Cerebrovascular Disease

 

 

Source: Vital Statistics Data, NCHS

 

In addition to providing cures and preventing more severe and costly effects of diseases, innovations in treatment and medical science, especially pharmaceuticals, have shifted the focus of medicine from highly invasive treatments and surgeries with potentially serious risks to less-invasive practices and therapies focused on prevention and health maintenance. This shift has allowed many older Americans to remain healthy and independent, avoiding long hospital or nursing home stays.

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