November 26, 2018 by Dr. Kyle Varner in Direct Primary Care , Policy , Prescriptions without Insurance , Solutions

Did you know that over 4.6 billion prescriptions were filled in the US last year?

Today, more than half of the US population reports to regularly taking prescription medications. And not just one, but four prescriptions on average.

This helps explain why Americans spend an average of $1,112 each year on prescription drugs alone.

So let me ask you, are Americans really that much sicker than the rest of the world that we need all these pills? I don’t think so.

Each year, an increasing number of Americans are choosing to take pills over making important lifestyle changes, and many more are taking medications that are completely unnecessary and potentially harmful to their health.

This is a growing epidemic in the US that is not only raising the costs of healthcare across the country, but is also deteriorating the quality of people’s health overall.

The biggest reasons behind this are the perverse system of incentives in the healthcare industry and because patients are not asking one crucial question. Read on to find out what that is.

Incentivizing Over-Consumption of Prescription Drugs

So how did we get here? Why are people taking so many unnecessary drugs?

It all comes down to the third-party health insurance system that we have in the US. When one party pays for a service, they are the customer. So when we use insurance to pay for our doctors’ visits and our prescriptions, they are the real customer, not us.

Thus for doctors, the priority has shifted from caring about your long-term health to complying with the insurance companies’ demands for evidence that they have “served” you.

Unfortunately, reporting to the insurance company that they told you to get some rest and to improve your diet isn’t a great way for a doctor to get paid. It’s far easier for them to just submit a prescription. Quick and easy evidence that they did something for you.

Patients aren’t complaining, because after all, it’s easier to take a pill than to give up smoking or eating donuts. In fact, most patients have come to expect this treatment. To the point that some will feel unsatisfied if they don’t come out of an appointment with a prescription.

This is why we see people take unnecessary drugs like Januvia, for example. This is a very expensive drug for diabetics that costs around $500 a month. That’s no small sum.

The truth is, most people don’t need actually need to take Januvia.  It is a medication that promotes the body’s own production of insulin.  If your diabetes is mild enough that you don’t need to take insulin, there’s an extremely good chance that you can reverse it with the proper diet and lifestyle choices.

If you are injecting yourself with insulin, it makes little sense to take a pill that promotes your body’s production of its own insulin. So, in reality, the people who actually need this medication are few and far between.  But, this medication sells like hotcakes–because insurance companies foot the bill, not patients.

So that’s the thing, if you were paying for this prescription in cash, you’d be a lot more likely to opt to start a diet rather than cough up $500 a month. But since your insurance company is paying, why not go with the pills? It’s cheap, and you can keep pigging out on whatever you want.

Taking Prescription Drugs Longer Than Necessary

Even worse, is that many people take the prescription drugs they’re on purely out of habit.

For example, a person might start taking Omeprazole for indigestion or heartburn. Then, even though the issue clears up, they carry on taking it… for years afterward! I’ve seen patients on these medications for over 10 years, simply because they never tried going off of it.

These drugs just aren’t intended for long-term use like this.  It causes a dramatic increase in risk for bowel infections, interferes with the absorption of vitamins, and generally damages someone’s health.  But doctors keep handing them out like candy.

This is also common with antidepressants. Even though antidepressants are to be taken regularly, you should periodically lower your dose to see if you can cope without. These medications are meant to be a support mechanism, not a source of dependency, so it is important to seek alternative solutions in the long-run.

Meanwhile, there are many people over 65 who are taking drugs that not only are unnecessary but are actually harmful to them at that age. They do so simply because these pills were a part of their daily routine earlier on in life and no one told them to stop.

The #1 Question You Need to Ask Your Doctor

The fact is, your health is your responsibility.

If you want to lower your healthcare costs and improve your quality of life, the first thing I would do is to take a list of your prescription medications to your doctor and go through them one by one. See if there are any you can discontinue, if there’s a cheaper alternative, or a lifestyle change that could have the same effect.

To sum it up, the most important question to ask your doctor is— do I really need this?

Far too many people start or continue to take unnecessary and potentially harmful drugs simply because they don’t bother to ask.

If your doctor is unwilling to provide you with alternatives, I suggest you change your doctor immediately. Ideally, I recommend you switch to a direct primary care (DPC) doctor.

Not only can DPC doctors be cheaper, but since they don’t work with third-party insurance companies they have all the right incentives in place to be concerned with your overall health and to spend time with you to find alternatives.


Prescription drugs have become an epidemic in the US, which is both dangerous and costly for the country as a whole. Luckily, it’s never too late to start taking your health into your own hands to start living your best life.

The first step towards doing this is to be assertive. Ask your doctor to cut your list of prescriptions down to the bare minimum. Ask how you can reduce your medication costs. Ask them if there are cheaper generic versions of the same drug. Negotiate and see if there are ways you can get a better deal.

You wouldn’t buy a car just because it was the first one the salesperson offered you, would you? So with something as important as your health, why take the first suggestion offered to you without question? Remember, your health is your responsibility.

This information is intended to help readers be more informed about their health options when speaking with a professional, but it should not be used alone to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease or condition. Be sure to speak to a qualified doctor before taking any action to make sure that your choices reflect your actual health situation.

Comments (1)

  1. Ellen C. Rank says:

    In complete agreement with you.
    Drs. had me on methadone, 26 yrs & other meds due to IC.Took it upon myself to to detox, it was pure hell!
    Been clean for 13 months. Changed everything in my life, esp. the brain fog.
    Also, changed my eating habits, lost 74 lbs. Take no medications, thank God.
    Working on one last bad habit, smoking.
    Ugh! Never give up, never!
    Ty for your article, & God bless ✝️

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