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Removing Samples Increases Generic Prescriptions

Free samples may increase costs by encouraging prescription of brand-name drugs

MONDAY, Sept. 8 (HealthDay News) -- Uninsured patients are three times more likely to be prescribed generic drugs when drug samples are removed from their physician's office, according to a report published in the September issue of the Southern Medical Journal.

David P. Miller, M.D., of Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C., and colleagues conducted a study of 1,973 prescriptions from a large university-affiliated medical practice with more than 70 physicians. The prescriptions were written for uninsured or Medicaid patients for one of four classes of medications for chronic conditions.

When the clinic's physicians did not have access to samples, the proportion of generic drugs prescribed rose from 12 percent to 30 percent, and in subsequent three-month periods up to nine months afterwards, the proportion of generic drugs prescribed rose to up to 40 percent, the researchers report. There was little change in prescribing patterns for Medicaid patients, they note.

"Although many physicians believe drug samples benefit their uninsured patients by serving as a source of free medications, samples are likely to lead to higher costs for the uninsured as physicians tend to prescribe more non-generic, expensive products," the authors write. "Future studies are needed to confirm these findings, as the results will have important policy implications for physicians, insurers, and governments struggling to control rising health care costs."

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