Three-Month Prescriptions Cut Costs By a Third

Three-Month Prescriptions Cut Costs By a Third

Reported December 28, 2009

(Ivanhoe Newswire) – We know that buying a three-month supply of prescription drugs, rather than a one-month, is a good way to save money for both patients and third-party payers, but how much money are we actually saving?

An analysis of 26,852 prescriptions filled for 395 different drugs from 2000 to 2005 showed that patients who purchased their drugs in three-month supplies saved on average 29 percent in out-of-pocket costs. After factoring in third-party payers, including Medicare, Medicaid and insurance companies, total savings averaged 18 percent.

“These savings may not seem large to some, but they could help trim the cost of health care, which is especially important given the nationwide debate about how to finance health care reform,” senior author G. Caleb Alexander, MD, MS, Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Center, was quoted as saying.

Although prescription drug costs represent only about 10 percent of the nation’s total health care bill, they are one of the fastest growing sectors and affect a large number of patients.



“No matter what any health care reform package looks like, millions of Americans are burdened by prescription drugs costs, and this is one important way to help relieve that burden,” Alexander said. “Other methods to lower prescription drug costs include substituting generic drugs for brand-name drugs and discontinuing non-essential medicines.”

The drugs in this study were limited to those that were prescribed for common chronic conditions, such as high cholesterol, hypertension, hypothyroidism and depression. Only patients who received both a one-month supply and a three-month supply during the same year in the same dose and quantity were included in the main analyses.

Forty-four percent of the prescriptions examined were dispensed in three-month supplies; the remainder were dispensed in one-month supplies. “This indicates that there is a significant amount of cost savings yet to be realized by converting from one-month supplies to three-month supplies,” said Alexander.

The average monthly out-of-pocket cost for a one-month supply was $20.44 compared with $15.10 for a three-month supply yielding a 29 percent savings. The corresponding numbers for the average monthly total costs were $42.72 and $37.95, respectively, yielding an 18 percent savings after adjustment for potential confounders.

If all the drugs in the study had been provided as three-month supplies, the out-of-pocket savings would have amounted to an estimated $148.6 million. Total savings would have amounted to $245.1 million. All figures are in 2005 dollars.

“Patients who are paying a lot each month for medicines—especially to treat chronic conditions—should investigate whether they can save money by using a three-month supply,” said Alexander. “Physicians need to keep this in mind as a potent way to help patients afford their medications.”

SOURCE: Applied Health Economics & Health Policy, November 20, 2009