Low adherence rates to cholesterol lowering medications may lead to health, cost concerns

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 - Tim Casey
Tim Casey, Executive Editor

The recent approvals of expensive medications, including two proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9 (PCSK9) inhibitors this summer, have brought the issue of high drug costs to the national conversation. Concerns abound about how patients and payers will afford the treatments.

However, even if clinicians prescribe PCSK9 inhibitors to lower cholesterol, it’s uncertain how many patients will adhere to the treatment regimen. If a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report released on Dec. 4 is any indication, the adherence rates may be low.

Of the 78.1 million U.S. adults from 2005 to 2012 who were eligible for cholesterol-lowering treatment, only 55.5 percent were taking the medications. The eligibility requirements were based on 2013 guidelines from the American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association.

Meanwhile, 46.6 percent said they made lifestyle modifications such as exercising and dietary changes, 37.1 percent said they took medications and made lifestyle modifications and 35.5 percent said they did neither.

The researchers noted that the Healthy People 2020 and Million Hearts initiatives are designed to promote the use of cholesterol-lowering treatments to reduce the risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. They added that the CDC funds similar programs in all states, including healthy behavior support for populations at risk and management of primary cardiovascular disease risk factors.

Still, they wrote that “coordinated community and clinical programs are needed to better identify all persons now eligible for cholesterol treatment.”

And yet, taking cholesterol-lowering medications isn’t enough. The researchers stressed that regular physical activity, adhering to a heart-healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight are just as important.

Adherence to medications and lifestyle modifications not only helps patients stay improve their health. It also contributes to lower healthcare costs and utilization, which are both growing issues for the industry and the U.S. economy as a whole.

Tim Casey
Executive Editor