BACKGROUND: People without prescription drug coverage face greater financial burdens and may sometimes be unable to follow the courses of treatment prescribed by their physicians. The U.S. legislature is considering Medicare coverage for prescription drugs and the use of managed care approaches for containing costs associated with senior citizens. prescription drug therapy. OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study was to describe selected characteristics of senior citizens. prescription drug payment and procurement. METHODS: Data were obtained via mailed survey from national random samples of senior citizens in 1998 and in 2001. Descriptive statistics and regression analyses were used to describe relationships among study variables. RESULTS: Of 2,434 deliverable surveys, 946 (39%) were returned. Of these, 700 (29%) respondents provided usable data for analysis. Results showed that in 2001, compared with 1998, the proportion of senior citizens without any prescription insurance coverage did not change significantly, 29% and 32%, respectively. However, the proportion of respondents with prescription drug coverage who had to share costs of prescriptions through copayments and coinsurance rose significantly, from 69% in 1998 to 89% in 2001. Between 1998 and 2001, the proportion of senior citizens using mail-order pharmacies rose significantly, from 17% to 27%, and the proportion who reported financial hardship also rose, from 19% in 1998 to 31% in 2001. Controlling for year, prescription drug use, and income, logistic regression analysis showed that respondents without any prescription insurance coverage were about 5 times more likely to report financial hardship compared with those having coverage. CONCLUSIONS: The proportion of senior citizens without any prescription drug insurance coverage did not change significantly between 1998 and 2001, but cost sharing in terms of the proportion that had cost-sharing requirements and the amount of the cost sharing through copayments and coinsurance rose significantly. Self-reported financial hardship and the use of mail-order pharmacies among seniors increased between 1998 and 2001.