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Drug Industry-Sponsored Patient Assistance Programs Are Seldom Used by Older Adults

Despite expanded drug coverage under Medicare Part D, gaps resulting in out-of-pocket expenses remain.

This may force some seniors to ration their prescriptions, seek free samples from their physicians, and enroll in industry-sponsored patient assistance programs (PAPs).

A new study found that while seniors take advantage of free samples, they do not take advantage of PAPs, which are strongly linked to doctor-patient communication about them.

Researchers analyzed data from a 2006 survey of a diverse group of 14,322 Medicare beneficiaries 65 years of age and older living in the community.

In the survey, each senior was asked if he or she received free samples or participated in a PAP. Just over half (51.4%) of all seniors in the study group reported receiving at least one free sample in the last 12 months.

Nearly 30% obtained samples more than once. Seniors with a regular doctor were more likely to report receiving free samples.

In fact, seniors who discussed costs with their doctor had twice the odds of receiving free samples compared with patients who did not.

Reported participation in a PAP, however, was dramatically low at only 1.3%. Those most likely to participate in a PAP had low incomes, lacked insurance coverage, and had less than a high school education.

As with free drug samples, seniors who talked with their doctor about drug costs were more likely to use PAPs than those who did not.

For details, see Gellad et al. (2011). Use of prescription drug samples and patient assistance programs, and the role of doctor-patient communication. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 26(12), 1458-1464.

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