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TV's 'Roseanne' can't afford her prescription medication, either

Roseanne and Dan Conner split their prescription medications in the show's revival premiere, a scene that should ring true to many families struggling to cover rising costs of prescription drugs.

Screenshot of the revival premiere of “Roseanne,” in which the show’s namesake and husband Dan divvy up prescription medications.
Screenshot of the revival premiere of “Roseanne,” in which the show’s namesake and husband Dan divvy up prescription medications.Read moreABC

In its revival premiere Tuesday, ABC's Roseanne tapped into a range of  issues that many American families are debating in their own households, including the high cost of prescription drugs.

In a kitchen that hasn't been updated since the Conner family ended their nine-season sitcom run in 1997, Dan drops a paper bag of pill bottles on the table and lays it out for his wife:

"Funny story," he says, "our insurance don't cover what it used to so I got half the drugs for twice the price."

Dan, played by John Goodman, died at the end of the show's earlier run, but has been brought back to life by show creators.

He sleeps with a CPAP mask, commonly used to treat sleep apnea, and, based on the pills he rolls onto the table, has high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Meanwhile, the family matriarch, played by Roseanne Barr, adds pain relievers and antidepressants to her Monday-through-Sunday pill container.

It's a sitcom, so the two make light of their plight, divvying up pills like kids trading Halloween candy.

"I'll trade you five of my statins for five of your anti-inflammatories," Dan says to his wife. "And I'll sweeten the pot by throwing in a couple of blood pressures."

>> TELL US YOUR STORY: We want to hear about your experience paying medical bills.

The scene likely rings true for many families struggling to cover the rising cost of prescription drugs.

Prescription drugs accounted for about 12 percent of total personal health-care service spending in 2015, up from about 7 percent through the 1990s, according to a December 2017 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

The report attributed the growth to use of expensive, brand-name drugs, as well as price hikes among some generic medications.

As prices continue to rise, patients are abandoning their medication.

Karen Stauffer, a 62-year-old resident of Lahaska in Bucks County, pays $300 a month for medications to manage a range of conditions, including chronic pain, high blood pressure, and the residual effects of Lyme disease.

When the out-of-pocket cost of one of her pain medications shot up to $170 a month, she stopped taking it.

"That would have been impossible," said Stauffer, who runs a health-food store in Lahaska and has an individual health plan.

Worse, a study by the University of Pennsylvania found, a growing number of cancer patients are forgoing prescribed oral medications because of high out-of-pocket costs.

The study, which used a national database of Medicare and private health insurance claims from 38,000 patients in 2014 and 2015, found that 18 percent of patients didn't fill an oral drug prescription after it was approved by their insurance. Patients who faced bills of hundreds or thousands of dollars were most likely to skip medication.

Roseanne viewers can expect to hear more about the Conners' health care as the season progresses. The show prides itself on tackling issues that will resonate with its audience, and, according to a 2017 Gallup poll, the cost of health care is families' top financial concern.

"We're extremely proud of the fact that we're dealing with relevant issues now that were just like the issues that we dealt with before: opioids and an aging parent and health care," executive producer Tom Werner said at a January news conference.

For now, though, the Conners don't seem concerned about the fact that neither of them will be taking the prescribed doses of their medications.

But then again, Roseanne was having canary yellow Easter Peeps for breakfast, a decision she defended by saying, "I worked hard all my life. If I want to eat a marshmallow chicken for breakfast, I think it's my … business."