Higher co-payments that took effect Jan. 1 are designed to help American employers cope with the rising costs of health insurance by making workers and retirees pay more out of their own pockets. But does it help health care outcomes for patients? No.
The study, funded by GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer Inc., suggests that some drug co-payments should be reduced for some people with chronic diseases. Reducing the amount of co-payments by a few dollars would increase the use of preventive drugs by these patients. And properly treated, these chronic conditions can be managed effectively and cost -efficiently -- keeping patients out of the hospital or other more, er, horizontal places.
The researchers looked at a major private employer that made some medications free to employees and slashed co-pays for other drugs by 50 percent. This led to a significant increase in employees' use of preventive medicines.
The study authors also looked at another employer that kept co-payments at the same levels and found it didn't show the same increase in employee use of preventive medicines.
The findings were published in the January/February issue of Health Affairs.
"All research to this point has shown that individuals will not buy important medical services even if there's a small financial barrier: $5 or even $2," senior study author Dr. Mark Fendrick, of the University of Michigan Medical School and School of Public Health, said in a prepared statement. "This study showed that when you remove those barriers, people started using these high-value services significantly more. These results bolster the idea that health insurance benefits should be designed in ways that produce the most health per dollar spent."
Treating chronic disease via appropriate pharmaceutical intervention saves both money and lives -- benefiting both the public purse and the public health. And isn't that what health care is all about.