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Linda Snyder - Director of Marketing
Linda Snyder - Director of Marketing
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Free Drug Samples Lead to Higher Out of Pocket Expenses

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According to a University of Chicago, patients who are given free samples spend nearly 40 percent more on their medications. My first thought was how could that be possible?

You’re saving the cost of the medication and the cost of driving to the pharmacy. Common sense says if you’re getting something for free it’s saving you money, right?

A new study, published in Medical Care this week, questions the practice of pharmaceutical companies doling out over $18 billion dollars of free samples a year. A practice the drug company reps describe as a cost-saving safety net for the poor. This study follows a January report that showed that the free samples are more likely to go to insured and financially secure patients instead of to the needy.

In the Chicago study, patients who did not receive free samples spent an estimated $178 out-of-pocket on prescription drugs over six months. By comparison, patients given free samples spent about $166 of their own money during the six months before they got the samples — but then $244 during the six months they received the samples and $212 in the six months after that, researchers found.

So, why would your out of pocket costs go up? Free samples allow patients to try new medications, including those without insurance coverage.

One thought is that patients who received the free samples are sicker than those who did not. However, the study indicated that illness was not a factor.

Another more compelling reason could be; it’s a brilliant marketing move. Many of the patients, who take the free samples, continue to use that higher priced brand, not knowing that a generic may be available. If you consider that two out of every three drugs prescribed is generic, it makes perfect sense for a drug company to give away their product for free taking a chance that the patient will develop some loyalty to that product and continue to use it even when they have to pay for it.

“This builds on a growing body of literature that shows that samples are not aimed to help the uninsured and the poor, but to increase the sales of the branded drugs,” said Dr. William Shrank, an instructor at Harvard Medical School.

So it seems, free drug samples will cost more in the long run if you’re not careful.