Study Questions End Result of Shifting Rx Drug Costs to Workers
Employers who shift more prescription drug costs to workers could spend more money on lost productivity and absenteeism than they would on drug costs, according to a study by the not-for-profit Integrated Benefits Institute, the New York Times reports.
The three-year study, which is scheduled to be submitted for publication in a peer-review journal, looked at health and disability claims data for several thousand workers with rheumatoid arthritis at 17 companies. The data were provided by UnitedHealth Group's Ingenix unit.
The study found that more than half of the workers were not taking their arthritis medications. In many cases, workers thought their copayments for the drugs, which averaged $26 for a 30-day supply, were too high, the study found. The drugs can cost as much as $18,000 annually.
According to Kimberly Jinnett, research director for the institute, employees who were taking their medication were "less likely" to file a short-term disability claim. The study found that the employers, who were not identified, incurred $17.2 million in costs related to lost productivity -- 26% more than the estimate of what they would have spent if workers had taken their arthritis drugs.
Michael Chernew, a health policy economist at Harvard Medical School who was not involved in the study, said, "The basic message is very consistent with all the work we have done: copays go up, people use their medications less and bad things happen."
Many companies have begun taking into account overall costs by including productivity measures in their "financial calculus for health care," according to the Times.
Pamela Hymel, the global medical director for Cisco Systems, said, "The evidence is compelling that we should be looking at the total health care outcomes picture" (Freudenheim, New York Times, 6/27).