How so? A new study shows that patients who get samples end up with significantly higher out-of-pocket costs than those who don’t. On average, patients who left their doctor's office with a tidy stash wound up spending 37 percent more for their meds during the six months they received samples, and 19 percent more in the six months afterward, than those who didn’t get samples, according to the study in Medical Care.
To be specific, patients who never received free samples spent an estimated $178 out-of-pocket on drugs over six months. By comparison, those given samples spent $166 during the six months before receiving samples. But they spent $244 during the six months they did receive samples - and $212 in the six months that followed, according to the study, which examined 5,709 patients from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, which is government data.
"There are two conflicting theories why out-of-pocket costs remained high," Amirban Basu, a University of Chicago professor of medicine and co-author, tells us. "One, people may be sicker and continued to need medication. So they're getting samples, but continue to spend. The second possibility is that brand-name promotion induces them to continue spending. This would undercut the conventional belief that physicians help all patients by giving them samples."
The study also found that younger patients who are not on Medicaid are more likely to receive free samples, and that patients on Medicaid were less likely to receive samples than patients with other types of insurance. This may, in part, reflect the targeted detailed effort carried out by the industry, Basu adds.