(INDIANAPOLIS) - Thousands of people in Indiana are deciding to go without their needed medication this month so they can afford to buy Christmas presents.
But the strain of making ends meet could put people's health at risk.
An estimated 800,000 Hoosiers can't afford the potentially life-saving medicines they need.
"We probably know somebody who didn't fill a prescription, because they couldn't afford it," said Beth Karnes, Mental Health America of Indiana.
Mental health advocates say the problem is worse during the holidays, when money is tighter and family expectations are higher.
"I decide whether I want to take my prescriptions, pay for my expensive drugs, I'm underinsured, or do I want to have a holiday with my family," Karnes said.
Mental Health America of Indiana gets more calls for assistance during the holidays. It helps clients navigate a number of websites where pharmaceutical companies offer free or discounted prescription drugs, through assistance programs, coupons or co-pay cards.
Many of the people benefiting from most of these programs earn too much money to qualify for government assistance. They may not have insurance, or their insurance has high co-pays or deductibles, and they don't have enough money to pay it themselves.
The director of Indiana's pharmacy board hears the complaints.
"They can't get access to drugs they need. They are too expensive," said Phil Wickizer.
He knows their pain. A manufacturer's discount card cut the annual cost of his anti-cholesterol medicine by $600.
"Some people might quibble over whether that's a decent savings, but 50 bucks a month on a state employee's salary is pretty good for me," Wickizer said.
In many cases, pharmaceutical companies are offering discounts to combat lower-priced competitors or generic drugs.
So consumers are urged to beware and compare.
"If that drug company changes your co-pay from $50 to $20 dollars, you might like that. But there may be a competing product that is $4. You make that decision with your healthcare provider, as well," said Professor Amy Peak, Butler University College of Pharmacy.
If you or someone you care for is looking to cut prescription drug costs, talk to your doctor.
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