(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
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
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
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