Insured Patients More Likely To Receive No-Cost Prescription Drug Samples

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No-Cost Prescription DrugSamples

Wealthier, insured patients receive no-cost drug samples fromphysicians more often than lower-income patients, according to astudy published on Wednesday in the American Journal of PublicHealth, USA Todayreports. For the study, Sarah Cutrona, a physician at CambridgeHealth Alliance and professor at HarvardMedical School, and colleagues used data from a 2003 Agencyfor Healthcare Research and Quality survey of nearly 33,000 U.S.residents.

The study found that patients with the highestincomes were the most likely to receive no-cost samples and that 28%of patients who received drug samples had incomes less than 200% ofthe federal poverty level (Szabo, USA Today, 1/3). Fewerthan one-fifth of patients who received drug samples were uninsuredat some point during 2003, according to the study (Cooney, BostonGlobe, 1/3).The study does not indicate that physiciansintentionally give drug samples to patients with higher incomes (USAToday, 1/3).

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The survey data show that where peoplereceived health care was a significant factor in whether theyreceived no-cost samples. Patients who saw their physicians inoffices were more likely to receive samples, and insured patientswith better access to care were more likely to see their doctor in anoffice rather than in an emergency department or hospital clinic.Cutrona said, "That finding suggests that the samples were amarketing tool and not a safety net because the poor and uninsuredpatients were not finding their way to where the sampleswere."

Cutrona added, "Doctors are trying to targetsamples to needy patients, but their individual efforts failed tocounteract societywide factors that determine access tocare."

According to the study, no-cost drugs samples witha retail value of $16.4 billion were given out in 2004, compared with$4.9 billion in 1996. Cutrona said most of the samples were new,high-cost drugs. Cutrona added that no-cost samples also raisepatient safety concerns in part because they are not dispensed bypharmacists who check for drug interactions (Boston Globe,1/3).

Ken Johnson, senior vice president of the PharmaceuticalResearch and Manufacturers of America, said studies show that 75%of physicians frequently or sometimes give out drug samples to helppatients with out-of-pocket costs (USA Today, 1/3).Johnson in a statement said, "Instead of second guessingmotives, Harvard researchers would better serve patients by examininghealth outcomes," adding, "Clearly, free samples often leadto improved quality of life for millions of Americans, regardless oftheir income" (Boston Globe, 1/3).

Reprinted with permission fromkaisernetwork.org.You can view the entire KaiserDaily Health Policy Report, search the archives, andsign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report ispublished for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J.Kaiser Family Foundation.

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