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Free Drug Samples Benefit Uninsured and Medicare Patients

By: Carl Clarke

The issue of prescription drug samples is one that is hotly debated. Some questions whether giving out samples to lower income patients is helping them by providing them with the medication they need or if it’s hurting them by giving them a sample of a prescription they can not afford in the long term. Here are some resources on the subject to help you decide what you think.

Dr. Wayne S. Strouse wrote a letter to the editor in response to a study that appeared in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine claiming that free drug samplesare actually hurting uninsured patients. Strouse disagrees and points out that many of his Medicare and uninsured patients can barely afford to pay co-pays, let alone pay for a prescription. He also criticizes the study for comparing “patients [who are insured or on Medicare] to patients who have insurance (or with money)” saying that it “is comparing apples with oranges.” To read Dr. Strouse’s letter, go to http://www.jabfm.org/cgi/content/full/16/1/86-a


The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle published an article by guest essayist Benjamin Cohen on the topic of free drug samples. Cohen, who is obviously in favor of the samples, lists the benefits of drug samples as relief for needy patients and education for doctors. He claims that pharmaceutical drug representatives are invaluable to physicians because they provide information about new drugs and advancements that many doctors do not have time to research. He also points out the benefit to lower income and elderly patients who cannot afford prescription drugs on a regular basis. By providing them with drug samples, doctors can ensure their patients are getting the help they need. To read Cohen’s article visit the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle online at http://www.democratandchronicle.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080620/OPINION02/806200344.

David E. Williams wrote an entry in his Health Business Blog on a new study that was published in the American Journal of Public Health, The study claims prescription drug samples are more often given to wealthy and insured Americans than low-income, uninsured patients. Williams responds with little surprise, stating that drug samples are more of a marketing tool by pharmaceutical companies and are not intended to solely help low-income patients. In fact, he writes, many free clinics don’t even accept drug samples because they know that their patients cannot afford the high-cost drugs long term. Since drug samples are used as a marketing tool, it would make sense that they are made available to insured patients who could then purchase them after trying them out, says Williams. The read this blog post visit http://www.healthbusinessblog.com/?p=1589.

The Delaware County Office of Service for the Aging (COSA) posted a fact sheet on a Medicare Prescription Drug Program, Part D, which took affect January 1, 2006. This federally subsidized drug program for seniors, available through private insurance companies, helps seniors with the cost of their prescription drugs by giving them coverage for a monthly premium of between $11 and $35 a month. This fact sheet describes the benefits and gives instructions on how to enroll in the program. The informational Web page also gives other suggestions on how to save money on drug costs including asking for drug samples from their doctor, buying medications in bulk and using generics when possible. To learn more about the program visit COSA’s Web site at http://www.delcosa.org/site/389/medicare_prescription_drug.aspx.

Ken Johnson, a Senior Vice President in the pharmaceutical division at Research and Manufacturers of America wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times in response to an article that questions the value of the distribution of free drug samples to doctors for their patients. Johnson argues that many uninsured and low-income patients depend on free drug samples and by discontinuing them it would take away a valuable safety net for these patients. Read Johnson’s letter to the editor here: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/09/opinion/l09drug.html.

A North Carolina resident wrote an opinion article for the News and Record on a current tax law in the state that taxes physicians for free drug samples. The article asserts that current tax laws consider free drugs samples part of the physicians “office supplies,” therefore making it taxable. The author points out that many doctors and patients depend on the free samples for affordable treatment and if doctors cannot pay the taxes on the medication they would not be able to accept them. To read this full article visit the News and Record’s Web site at http://www.news-record.com/content/2008/07/15/article/free_drug_samples_beneficial.

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