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New Study Estimates Potential Savings Gained by Expanding Use of Beta Blockers in Heart Failure Patients

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Press Release Date: January 16, 2004

Using a decision model, researchers estimate that Medicare costs would decrease if the use of beta blocker drugs were more widespread, according to a new study sponsored by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The study, "Economic Effects of Beta Blocker Therapy in Patients with Heart Failure," is published in the January issue of American Journal of Medicine.

Although numerous clinical trials have demonstrated the effectiveness of beta blockers in reducing hospitalizations and deaths from heart failure, recent studies suggest that beta blocker use in the heart failure population remains at less-than-optimal levels. Heart failure occurs when the heart loses its ability to pump enough blood through the body. Beta blockers can improve heart function and prolong survival in patients with heart failure.

Researchers from the AHRQ-sponsored Duke Center for Education and Research on Therapeutics estimated that treatment for heart failure without beta blocker drugs would cost Medicare an estimated $39,739 per-patient over a 5-year period; however, treatment with beta blockers would cost an estimated $33,675—a per-patient savings of $6,064. In contrast, beta blocker therapy would increase expenses to Medicare patients by an estimated $2,113 over 5 years.

Although at the time of the study Medicare did not cover prescription drugs, researchers estimated that program savings would remain positive even if Medicare reimbursed patients for the cost of beta blockers.

Estimates in the study were calculated using a Markov decision model. Calculations were based on clinical trial data on rates of hospitalization/death and effectiveness of beta blockers, Duke University Medical Center estimates of hospital costs and reimbursement, and physician fees from the Medicare fee schedule.

Editor's Note: AHRQ's Centers for Education and Research on Therapeutics (CERTs) program is a national initiative to increase awareness of the benefits and risks of new, existing, or combined uses of therapeutics, through education and research. The seven CERTs centers include: Duke University Medical Center, HMO Research Network, University of Alabama, University of Arizona Health Sciences Center, University of North Carolina, University of Pennsylvania, and Vanderbilt University Medical Center. More information on the CERTs and their activities is available at

For more information, please contact AHRQ Public Affairs: Karen Migdail (301) 427-1855 (


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