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Free Drug Samples Hike Out-of-Pocket Costs
Date:3/24/2008

Patients who get the samples spend more on prescription drugs, study says

MONDAY, March 24 (HealthDay News) -- Patients who receive free drug samples from their doctors end up having significantly higher out-of-pocket costs for their prescription drugs than people who don't receive free samples, a new study finds.

In fact, patients who received free samples spent about $166 in out-of-pocket costs on prescription drugs in the six months before receiving the samples, $244 for the six months in which they received samples, and $212 for the six months following receipt of the free drugs, the study found.

But patients who didn't get free samples spent about $178 on prescription drugs over six months.

"This is a curious finding because one would think, intuitively, that if you receive a free sample, one's out-of-pocket prescription cost would be lower, not higher," said lead researcher Dr. G. Caleb Alexander, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

There are several possible explanations for the finding, Alexander said. One is that patients who receive free samples may be sicker than patients who don't get samples.

"The second possibility is that patients who receive free samples may go on to receive and fill prescriptions for the very same medicine that were initially begun as free samples," Alexander said. "We know that drugs that are available as free samples are those that are being widely marketed and promoted and these drugs are more expensive than their older, less promoted counterparts."

The study findings are published in the March 24 issue of the journal Medical Care.

For the study, Alexander's team collected data on 5,709 patients who had participated in the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey. The survey was done by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the patients were followed for up to two years.


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