Use of Prescription Drug Samples and Patient Assistance Programs, and the Role of Doctor-Patient Communication

Seniors who have trouble paying for prescription drugs may skip doses or never fill a prescription. They also may accept free samples from their doctor or enroll in a pharmacy industry-sponsored patient assistance program (PAP).

This 2006 survey of 14,322 Medicare beneficiaries sought to characterize the users of cost-saving programs and the effect of doctor-patient communication on participation. The respondents were predominantly White (86%), and had two or more chronic conditions (71%).

Key Findings:

  • 51 percent of seniors reported receiving at least one free sample in the past year; 29 percent received more than one.
  • Those with higher monthly incomes (over $2,500), were 51 percent likely to receive a free sample while those with lower monthly incomes (under $800) were 44 percent likely.
  • Whites received more free samples than Blacks and Hispanics (52%, 46% and 45%, respectively).
  • Patients who spoke with their doctor about medication costs were more likely to receive samples than those who did not (68% versus 44%).

Only 1.3 percent of seniors reported participating in a PAP. Those who spoke to their doctor about medication costs were more likely to use PAPs than those who did not (1.9% versus 0.9%). However, those who did use PAPs were those most in need.