Drug industry-sponsored patient assistance programs are seldom used by older adults

Research Activities, June 2012, No. 382

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 out 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.

The study 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 they received free samples or participated in a PAP. They were also asked a number of questions dealing with doctor-patient communication, for example, how often they discussed drug costs with their physicians and if they had admitted to not filling a prescription due to cost issues.

Just over half (51.4 percent) of all seniors in the study group reported receiving at least one free sample in the last 12 months. Nearly 30 percent 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 percent. 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. The study was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS17695).

See "Use of prescription drug samples and patient assistance programs, and the role of doctor-patient communication," by Walid F. Gellad, M.D., M.P.H., Haiden A. Huskamp, Ph.D., Angela Li, M.P.H., and others in the Journal of General Internal Medicine 26(12), pp. 1458-1464, 2011.

Page last reviewed June 2012
Internet Citation: Drug industry-sponsored patient assistance programs are seldom used by older adults: Research Activities, June 2012, No. 382. June 2012. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. https://archive.ahrq.gov/news/newsletters/research-activities/jun12/0612RA28.html