A new study showing low-income, uninsured patients receive few of the $16 billion worth of free drug samples given away yearly by pharmaceutical companies may do little to change the way healthcare providers distribute drug samples, according to some healthcare policy experts.
The studywhich found that the vast majority of drug-sample recipients are well-insured, middle- and upper-income patientsconcluded that drug samples serve as a marketing tool, not a safety net and suggested the practice may actually put patients health at risk.
I think this study helps demonstrate that free samples arent about altruism; theyre about promotion, said William Shrank, a drug-policy researcher for 746-bed Brigham and Womens Hospital in Boston. How (the research) will affect policy is unclear, but it sort of weakens manufacturers argument that samples are created for patients who cant afford their drugs.
Conducted by physicians at Bostons Cambridge Health Alliance and Harvard Medical School, the study found that 82% of patients receiving free drug samples had no break in their insurance coverage during 2003, while just 18% of free-sample recipients were uninsured for all or part of that year. We found that free-sample receipt was consistently higher among well-insured patients and among those who received care in an office setting, said Sarah Cutrona, a Cambridge Health Alliance physician and lead researcher on the study.