Studies: Lower co-pays help keep patients on their meds

Insurance plans that reduced or eliminated co-payments for medications have seen an increase in the number of people following their prescriptions, according to two studies in this month's issue of Health Affairs.

The theme for the November issue is "designing insurance to improve value in healthcare." The two studies examined the effects of value-based insurance design, which typically reduces cost sharing for services that have strong evidence of improving patients' health.

The first study looked at the self-insured firm Pitney Bowes. By eliminating co-payments for cholesterol-lowering statins, the company increased employee adherence to the drugs by 2.8 percent, according to the study. And when the company reduced co-payments for the blood-clot inhibitor clopidogrel, adherence climbed 4 percent.

In North Carolina, meanwhile, BlueCross BlueShield has achieved similar results: Adherence to prescriptions for plan enrollees with diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia and congestive heart failure increased between 1.5 percent and 3.8 percent when patients paid less than employees who weren’t offered the option.

"If these promising early results are validated in other settings," the study authors write, "the trend of rising copayments may be replaced with a long-term trend of decreasing or vanishing copayments."

The Health Affairs editors do say, "The jury is still out on whether this strategy will dramatically reduce the rate of growth in health spending, or keep people healthier."