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Needed but couldn't afford prescription medicines, past 12 months

Codes and Frequencies

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YBARMEDS indicates whether, at any time during the past 12 months, sample adults and sample children needed prescription medicines but didn't get them because they couldn't afford them.

The Field Representative's Manual for 1999-2000 instructed interviewers to "include all types of financial limitations that prevented the person from getting medical services." The Manual for 1997-2003 also included a definition of prescription medicine as "medication which can only be obtained with the approval of a licensed health care professional. The medication is usually obtained through a pharmacy using a written note or telephoned instruction" to the pharmacy from a doctor, dentist, or other health care professional. A similar definition was included in the 2004-2006 Manuals. These points in the documentation were not routinely shared with respondents.

YBARMEDS was one of a series of questions intended to determine if the family's access to health care was restricted because of financial concerns. The survey also collected information about whether, at any time in the past 12 months, sample adults and sample children needed but did not get eyeglasses (YBARGLASS), mental health care or counseling (YBARMENTAL), dental care, including checkups, (YBARDENTAL), follow-up care (YBARFOLLOW), and specialist care (YBARSPECL).


This variable is largely comparable over time. Please see the note below about changes introduced in 2019 that may affect comparability over time.

Available for 1993-1996, NOTMEDS, which identifies persons who needed prescription medicines but could not get them at some time during the past 12 months, covers some of the same ground as YBARMEDS. However, the question wording for YBARMEDS refers specifically to financial barriers to attaining eyeglasses. The question wording for NOTMEDS is more inclusive; non-financial reasons such as being "too busy" or "missed a bus" were also accepted as barriers to attaining prescription medicines with this variable.

Questionnaire design changes introduced in 2019 limit comparability with earlier years. The NHIS questionnaire was substantially redesigned in 2019 to introduce a different data collection structure and new content. For more information on changes in terminology, universes, and data collection methods beginning in 2019, please see the user note.


  • 1997-2018: Sample adults age 18+ and sample children under age 18.
  • 2019-2022: Sample adults age 18+ and sample children age 0-17.


  • 1997-2022