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Appl Health Econ Health Policy. 2009;7(4):255-64. doi: 10.2165/11313610-000000000-00000.

Cost savings associated with filling a 3-month supply of prescription medicines.

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Center for Health and Social Sciences, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA.



Many patients are burdened by prescription costs, and patients, providers and policy makers may attempt to reduce these costs by substituting 3-month for 1-month supplies of medicines.


To measure the difference in out-of-pocket and total costs among patients receiving different quantities of the same prescription drug used to treat a chronic condition, and to examine patient and health system characteristics associated with the use of a 3-month supply.


Data were pooled from the 2000-5 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, a nationally representative survey of the US non-institutionalized civilian population, to compare prescription drug expenditures for medicines dispensed as both 3-month and 1-month supplies. Logistic regression was used to model correlates associated with 3-month use. The main outcome measures were the mean monthly out-of-pocket and total costs expressed in year 2005 values.


Forty-four percent of prescriptions examined were dispensed as 3-month supplies. The average (95% CI) monthly total and out-of-pocket costs for a 1-month supply were $US42.72 (42.01, 43.42) and $US20.44 (19.99, 20.89), respectively, while the corresponding monthly costs for a 3-month supply were $US37.95 (37.26, 38.64) and $US15.10 (14.68, 15.53). After adjustment for potential confounders, this represented a 29% decrease in out-of-pocket costs and an 18% decrease in total prescription costs through the use of a 3-month rather than a 1-month supply. Eighty percent of patients achieved some cost savings from a 3-month supply and there was considerable variation in the amount saved. There were no marked differences in the characteristics of individuals using 3-month versus 1-month supplies.


Although such opportunities are not universally available, these findings quantify the cost savings that patients in the US can achieve through filling larger quantities of a prescription for a chronic condition.

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