Drug compliance not much higher when patients pay nothing

NEWS IN BRIEF — Posted Dec. 12, 2011

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Eliminating co-pays appears to have little effect on patients' medication adherence or clinical outcomes, according to a Dec. 1 study in The New England Journal of Medicine. Nearly 6,000 Aetna patients who had been recently discharged from the hospital after a heart attack were involved in the study. About half were given ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers and statins at no charge, while the others continued to pay monthly out-of-pocket costs of $25 or less for these medications.

Yet only 44% of the free-drug group took their medicines, compared with 39% of the usual-cost group. More important, there was no statistically significant difference in outcomes, with the two groups of patients experiencing a similar number of fatal or nonfatal vascular events, the study said.

Patients who received drugs for free racked up about 8% less in medical charges -- nearly $5,300 on average -- due to fewer physician visits and other nonmedication health care expenses. The slightly improved drug compliance in this group may have reduced its health care utilization, the study said.

Note: This item originally appeared at

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