A health insurer has cut emergency room admissions by sending brown paper bags to enrollees who take 5 or more drugs daily for chronic conditions.

Premera Blue Cross, Mountlake, Wash., says that the brown bag recipients must be 19 or older, and that they must have been taking a large number of prescription drugs for at least 3 months.

Premera asks bag recipients to put all of their prescriptions, over-the-counter medications and supplements in the bags, and then to take the bags with them the next time they see a physician for an appointment.

Premera began the Polypharmacy Program in 2001, and it recently conducted an analysis of 2 years of program performance data.

The researchers found that the 13,000 Premera enrollees who received the brown bags during the study period had a 21.6% chance of going to the emergency room and an 11.9% chance of being hospitalized during the year that they received the bags.

During the year before the enrollees received the bags, they had a 22.8% chance of going to the emergency room and a 12.9% chance of being hospitalized, Premera says.