Physician Dispensing Inflates Price of OTC Drugs

Oct 22, 2014
A recent study by the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute found that easily available, over-the-counter drugs were sold at significantly higher prices when dispensed through physician offices.
  • Workers' Compensation Insurance
  • Pain

The costly practice of physician dispensing continues to impact workers’ compensation payers.

The huge price premiums charged by physicians who dispense medications to injured workers out of their offices are not limited to prescription medications, according to a recent Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) study, which examined physician dispensing of medication in Pennsylvania.

The study found that even easily available, over-the-counter drugs were sold at significantly higher prices when dispensed through physicians’ offices.

Inflated Prices for Over-the-Counter Drugs

The most commonly dispensed medication from physicians’ offices in Pennsylvania was ibuprofen, a common over-the-counter (OTC) medication. When dispensed from a physician’s office, the drug cost 74 cents per tablet compared to only 26 cents when obtained from a retail pharmacy. In addition, the price for the medication when dispensed from a physician’s office went up 20% from 2008-2009 to 2012-2013, while the cost at the pharmacy dropped 11% during the same time period.

Another OTC drug among the top most commonly dispensed medications from a physician’s office was Aleve® (Naproxen sodium), costing $2 per pill with a price increase of 27%. The same medication at retail was $1.14 per pill and the price declined 6% during the same time.

Injured workers who received medication through a physician’s office missed, on average, 85 days of work compared with 64 days for those obtaining medication from a pharmacy.

Physician Dispensing Drives Pharmacy Waste

The WCRI study further highlighted a problem that has been the subject of much discussion. A previous study had shown that physician dispensed medications can often cost 60% to 300% more than a comparable medication at a retail pharmacy.

Other published research has shown that when states adopt reforms regulating the price of medications dispensed through a physician’s office it can help curb pharmacy waste.

Leveraging Clinical Insights

Express Scripts leverages insights gained from our behavioral science research to develop a solution that can help reduce the impact of physician dispensed medication. When an injured worker receives medications from a physician office, Express Scripts sends them a letter explaining the safety concerns and highlighting how choosing an in-network pharmacy can help cut down on waste.

For more information about the WCRI study, click here.

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