Lower-cost formulations of prescription drugs could cut costs by 40%, study finds

Rising prescription drug costs paid by insurers and consumers may be partly due to ordering more expensive formulations, according to a new study. File photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License picture

February 4 (UPI) — In the United States, people can save up to 40% on prescription drug costs by switching to different formulations of the same drug, when available, according to research published Friday by the JAMA Health Forum.

In the cost analysis of 28 drugs available in tablet or capsule form, 33% of prescription orders were placed for the high-priced formulation, the data showed.

Similarly, for 21 drugs distributed as a cream or ointment, 47% of orders were for the most expensive formulation, the researchers said.

If the lower-cost formulation had been ordered, expenses for the analyzed drugs — both in terms of out-of-pocket expenses and those covered by health insurance — would have been reduced by 42%, according to the researchers.

“Our results shed light on the abrupt and often unexplained price variation that can exist between similar drug treatments,” study co-author Sunita Desai told UPI in an email.

“They also underscore the need for greater price transparency to enable patients and providers to balance clinical and cost considerations when making treatment decisions,” said Desai, assistant professor of health at the population NYU School of Medicine in New York.

Out-of-pocket costs, or expenses beyond what is covered by insurance, have increased in recent years in the United States, fueled at least in part by rising prices for brand name drugs and reduced availability of alternatives. generics, according to research.

Studies have found that up to 18 million people nationwide cannot afford the medications they have been prescribed and an estimated 13 million skip doses or delay taking medication due to costs.

According to Desai and his colleagues, drug prices can differ depending on a number of factors, including the formulation used.

For example, amoxicillin, a commonly used antibiotic, is available in tablet or capsule form.

In their analysis, the researchers found that the most expensive tablet formulation was ordered about 45% of the time, they said.

If the cheaper capsule had been ordered instead, users of the prescription drug would have saved around 30% on out-of-pocket costs, according to the data.

Similarly, hydrocortisone, which is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, among other conditions, was ordered in its more expensive ointment formulation when the cheaper cream option would have saved patients around 10% of expenses, the researchers said.

Although prescribing healthcare providers may prefer one formulation over another for convenience, safety, or effectiveness, increased transparency regarding price differences would allow patients and providers to make more informed decisions, according to the researchers.

“Many drugs come in multiple formulations, and prices between two formulations can vary significantly,” Desai said.

“In many cases, the convenience or clinical differences may be minor, and in those cases the patient and payer could save money if they knew about those price differences,” she said.

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