Research: Lower medication use, higher mortality linked with increased cost-sharing

When health insurers increase cost-sharing for members, it can result in several negative health outcomes and higher mortality, according to a working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. 

The working paper, authored by researchers from Cambridge, Mass.-based Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley, analyzed enrollees who were in Medicare's prescription drug program from 2007-12.

The researchers found a $10.40 increase in out-of-pocket price per prescription was linked with a 22.6 percent drop in prescription drug use. They also found the increased price was associated with a 32.7 percent increase in monthly mortality. 

Additionally, increases in prescription drug costs affected high-risk patients the most, as beneficiaries with greater risk of heart attack and stroke tended to cut back on statins and antihypertensives more than lower-risk patients, the study authors found.

"When faced with complex, high-dimensional choice problems, patients respond in simple, perverse ways," the authors wrote. "Specifically, price increases cause 18 percent more patients to fill no drugs, regardless of how many drugs they had been on previously, or their health risks."

Read the full working paper here.

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