Surprise! Rx medicines lower overall health costs

Amid the glacial pace of change in government and health policy, congressional number crunchers have finally acknowledged an indisputable fact long known to health and pharmacy experts: prescription medicines save money.

It seems obvious enough. But it was only last week, near the end of November, that the Congressional Budget Office unveiled the results of a new study showing that greater prescription drug access and utilization can reduce health care costs in other areas, including hospitalizations.

To put it in the CBO’s own words, “Greater prescription drug use by Medicare beneficiaries reduces Medicare’s spending for medical services.” Researchers based that conclusion on a review of dozens of recent studies of the impact of prescription drug therapy on hospitalization rates and other outcomes.

Better late than never. The CBO’s report, “Offsetting Effects of Prescription Drug Use on Medicare’s Spending for Medical Services,” is a step beyond previous CBO studies “that found insufficient evidence of an ‘offsetting’ effect of prescription drug use on medical services spending,” says Drug Store News reporter Alaric DeArment in a Nov. 30 report.

The savings found in the CBO study aren’t much. “CBO estimates that a 1% increase in the number of prescriptions filled by beneficiaries would cause Medicare’s spending on medical services to fall by roughly one-fifth of 1%,” the agency reports. But its findings are based on only a narrow set of criteria tracking the correlation between increased drug utilization and overall medical savings. And as independent pharmacy leader Doug Hoey noted last week, “CBO's new analysis represents the tip of the iceberg in terms of the savings independent community pharmacists can produce for Medicare and other health plans.

"CBO examined only the quantity of prescriptions filled, not the qualitative benefits of strong patient-pharmacist relationships in helping patients take their medication appropriately,” said Hoey, CEO of the National Community Pharmacists Association.

I’d like to hear other examples of how prescription drug therapy and medication therapy management – delivered in person by pharmacists – is helping patients lead healthier lives and stay out of the hospital. Please share your experiences and your thoughts about the validity and scope of the CBO’s findings.

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