It's too bad this study doesn't actually look at what I would have hoped it would - but it's interesting, nonetheless. One of my hospitals is a true safety-net hospital and we see, repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly, the complications of neglected chronic disease. One of our frequent laments is whether the costs of recurrent acute hospitalization wouldn't be prevented a hundred times over if we'd simply sink some costs into preventative maintenance care, free medications, etc.
This study almost looks at that. This is from the NEJM which compared the outcomes of patients following myocardial infarction, and they follow a group which receives completely free medication and a group that does not. Unfortunately, the group that does not receive free medications is still receiving heavily subsidized medication support, and is only responsible for a co-pay.
Despite only needing to come up with a co-pay, there's a significant difference in medication compliance, with an average absolute difference in full adherence with medications of ~5-6%. With this minimal absolute difference in adherence, the full adherence group had significantly fewer future vascular events - mostly from stroke and myocardial infarction - approximately a 1% absolute decrease. There was a non-significant decrease in total costs associated with the patients who were on the full-coverage medication plan.
Now, they don't follow-up any medication-related adverse events, so this is the most optimistic interpretation of benefits of full-coverage, but it would seem that it is overall cheaper and more beneficial to supply medications for free. And, it makes me wonder what the results of a similar cost/health-benefit study would show in our safety-net population.
"Full Coverage for Preventive Medications after Myocardial Infarction"