NU Online News Service, Dec. 10, 2003, 1:03 p.m. EST – Big increases in prescription drug co-pays may cause some patients to stop taking important medications, according to a study published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine.[@@]

The researchers who conducted the study looked at changes in prescription plans that took place at two large employers in 2000.

One employer increased co-payments for all types of drugs and the second increased co-payments only for expensive brand-name drugs.

Many employees at the second employer shifted to medications with lower co-payments but kept taking medication of some kind.

Employees at the first company, who faced big increases in co-payments for all prescriptions, were more likely to shift to drugs in categories with lower co-payments, but they also were more likely to stop taking any medication, the researchers report.

The researchers found, for example, that 16% of the patients who had been using expensive ACE inhibitors for cardiovascular disease stopped taking any ACE inhibitors, compared with 6% of the patients in a control group.

Employees at the first company also were twice as likely to stop taking cholesterol-lowering statins.

Haiden Huskamp, a health economist at Harvard University, led the study research team.

Medco Health Solutions Inc., Franklin Lakes, N.J., a pharmacy benefit manager, helped fund the research.

Dr. Robert Epstein, Medco’s chief medical officer, says the study results show that employers should think about overall medical claims costs when they are trying to cut prescription costs.

“Changes should be done incrementally, so as not to impact patient compliance,” Epstein says.