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Free Diabetes Drugs and Supplies Considered

Free diabetes drugs and supplies

Getting free diabetes drugs and supplies sounds like a great deal for patients. However, the ultimate payoff is whether people with diabetes improve or have better diabetes management when price barriers are removed. Here’s what the study’s authors discovered.

Does offering free diabetes drugs work?

Providing some free medical supplies and medications is not a new idea. This concept is part of a program known as value-based insurance design (VBID). Here’s a general idea of how it works.

Say you normally would pay $25 co-pay for your type 2 diabetes drugs and another fee for your glucose strips. With a VBID program, your company would pay for these items for you.
However, at the same time, if you requested a procedure that your company felt was not necessary or was overused, it might tell you to pay $800 for the procedure if you want it.

This approach is based on the idea that a healthcare consumer’s co-pay or out-of-pocket medical expenses should be based on the value of the medication or procedure to the person’s health rather than its cost.

In a new study published in Population Health Management, experts from three different facilities in Pennsylvania and Delaware compared the self-reports from patients at baseline and one year after starting a value based insurance design that took care of all the co-pays for an individual’s diabetes drugs and supplies.

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At the end of the one-year period, here’s what the authors found:

  • Nearly 90 percent of the patients said they had followed their medication programs for controlling glucose levels more precisely
  • Participants also said they had improved their management of other medical conditions
  • More than half of the participants said the program allowed them to take additional diabetes drugs
  • Participants reported better adherence to glucose monitoring
  • Participants experienced a significant decline in out-of-pocket costs associated with non-adherence to their diabetes program

Despite these apparent positive reports, the authors did not observe any improvements in the patients’ clinical features, including glycemic control. So what does this mean?

The authors of the study noted that “removing cost barriers [co-pays] should be seen as one tool that can improve adherence to diabetes treatment despite the absence of current empiric evidence for clinical changes.” However, “the ultimate clinical impact and cost implications of this benefit remain unclear.”

The study had some limitations, including a small group of participants (188) and no control group for comparison. In addition, all the study participants either worked in or were dependents of individuals who work in health care, which may have somehow affected their responses.

Are free diabetes medications and supplies an effective tool to help with the epidemic of type 2 diabetes? The authors of the study pointed out that “whether these findings indicate a larger clinical or financial benefit…remains unknown. Therefore, whether offering free diabetes drugs and supplies is an effective tool to help with the epidemic of type 2 diabetes is uncertain.

Elliott DJ et al. Patient-centered outcomes of a value-based insurance design program for patients with diabetes. Population Health Management 2013 Feb. doi:10.1089/pop.2012.0031

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