Free Samples End Up Costing Uninsured More

The retrospective study looked at the prescribing habits of more than 70 physicians in a university-affiliated internal medicine practice in the months immediately before and after the closing of their drug sample closet. The results indicate that the availability of free pharmaceutical samples greatly impacts whether an uninsured patient is given a prescription for a generic or a brand-name drug.

“It’s true that samples can save patients money in the short-run,” said lead researcher David P. Miller. “But our study shows that they may end up paying more in the long run when they are given prescriptions for brand-name only drugs.”

Drug samples are available only for brand name drugs, which are often newer, more heavily advertised and almost always much more expensive than generic drugs. Many times, initially, a patient will be given a sample of a drug to test tolerability and effectiveness. But the availability of drug samples is not predictable and, when patients return for refills and the samples they need are missing from a practice they are left paying the price when they have to fill a prescription.

For the study, researchers used a pharmacy database to track all of the prescriptions in four classes of chronic medications given to uninsured and Medicaid patients. Nearly 2,000 prescriptions were tracked for the nine months leading up to and following the relocation of the practice, at which time the drug sample closet was permanently closed due to a lack of suitable storage space in the new building.

Researchers found that, for uninsured patients, the percentage of medications prescribed as generics rose from twelve percent to 30 percent after the clinic closed its drug sample closet. For Medicaid patients, however, there was no significant change in generic prescribing.

Researchers were surprised to find that Medicaid patients were generally prescribed generic drugs, even with the availability of branded samples. Surprising, Miller said, because at the time of the study, Medicaid did not have a formulary, so all drugs for Medicaid patients, branded or generic, were only one Dollar.; Source: Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center