Prescription Drug Costs Set to Become Leading Cause of Death in the US

by Vins
Published: Updated:

More than 1.1 million seniors in the Medicare program could die prematurely over the next decade because they cannot afford the exorbitant prices of prescription medications. As Kenny Stancil reported for Common Dreams, a November 2020 study, produced by the West Health Policy Center, a nonprofit and nonpartisan policy research group, and Xcenda, the research arm of AmerisourceBergen, a drug distributor, concluded that financial nonadherence will soon be the “leading cause of death in the United States, leading diabetes, influenza, pneumonia and kidney disease.”

As has been widely reported, costs of prescription drugs have soared, with list prices having increased 159% from 2007 to 2018.

According to the West Health and AmerisourceBergen study, the rising cost of medicine will lead to an estimated 112,000 deaths annually, due to elderly Americans being unable to afford necessary medications.  Furthermore, the high cost of medicine will raise Medicare expenses by $177 billion in the next decade.

However, Stancil’s Common Dreams report also included details about policy changes that could “curb the power of Big Pharma, resulting in far fewer avoidable deaths.” One model was provided by the 2019 Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act. Although Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to act on the legislation since House Democrats passed it in December 2019, the act could allow Medicare to work with pharmaceutical companies to lower prescription medication prices. The Council for Informed Drug Spending Analysis stated that, by 2030, Medicare negotiation could prevent “nearly 94,000 seniors’ deaths annually and save $475.9 billion” by reducing drug prices and seniors’ cost-sharing.


Kenny Stancil, “High Drug Prices Could Result in Premature Deaths of More Than 1.1 Million Seniors in Next Decade: Analysis,” November 23, 2020,

Student Researcher: Silvia Morales (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Peter Phillips (Sonoma State University)