The vast majority of free drug samples given to physicians are distributed to insured, wealthy patients and are not used to ease the burden of poor and uninsured patients, according to a new study conducted by doctors at the Cambridge (Mass.) Health Alliance and Harvard Medical School.
We know that many doctors try to get free samples to needy patients when those patients come into the office. (But) we found that such efforts do not counter societywide factors that determine access to care and selectively direct free samples to the affluent, said David Himmelstein, senior author of the study and a physician at Cambridge Health Alliance, in a news release.
The study, set to be published in the February 2008 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, found 82% of patients receiving free samples had no breaks in their health-insurance coverage during 2003, while just 18% of free-sample recipients were uninsured for all or part of that year. Researchers also found that educational and income levels as well as race and gender determined whether patients were likely to have access to free samples. Patients with doctoral degrees accounted for 17%the largest group among those ranked by educationof free drug-sample recipients; 72% of sample recipients had incomes of at least 200% above the federal poverty level, while 81% of recipients were white and 51% were women.
Our findings strongly suggest that free drug samples serve as a marketing tool. Not as a safety net, Himmelstein said. -- by Shawn Rhea
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