BACKGROUND: Drug insurance schemes are systems that provide access to medicines on a prepaid basis and could potentially improve access to essential medicines and reduce out-of-pocket payments for vulnerable populations.
OBJECTIVES: To assess the effects on drug use, drug expenditure, healthcare utilisation and healthcare outcomes of alternative policies for regulating drug insurance schemes.
SEARCH METHODS: We searched CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, nine other databases, and two trials registers between November 2014 and September 2020, including a citation search for included studies on 15 September 2021 using Web of Science. We screened reference lists of all the relevant reports that we retrieved and reports from the Background section. Authors of relevant papers, relevant organisations, and discussion lists were contacted to identify additional studies, including unpublished and ongoing studies.
SELECTION CRITERIA: We planned to include randomised trials, non-randomised trials, interrupted time-series studies (including controlled ITS [CITS] and repeated measures [RM] studies), and controlled before-after (CBA) studies. Two review authors independently assessed the search results and reference lists of relevant reports, retrieved the full text of potentially relevant references and independently applied the inclusion criteria to those studies. We resolved disagreements by discussion, and when necessary by including a third review author. We excluded studies of the following pharmaceutical policies covered in other Cochrane Reviews: those that determined how decisions were made about which conditions or drugs were covered; those that placed restrictions on reimbursement for drugs that were covered; and those that regulated out-of-pocket payments for drugs.
DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two review authors independently extracted data from the included studies and assessed risk of bias for each study, with disagreements being resolved by consensus. We used the criteria suggested by Cochrane Effective Practice and Organisation of Care (EPOC) to assess the risk of bias of included studies. For randomised trials, non-randomised trials and controlled before-after studies, we planned to report relative effects. For dichotomous outcomes, we reported the risk ratio (RR) when possible and adjusted for baseline differences in the outcome measures. For interrupted time series and controlled interrupted time-series studies, we computed changes along two dimensions: change in level; and change in slope. We undertook a structured synthesis following the EPOC guidance on this topic, describing the range of effects found in the studies for each category of outcomes.
MAIN RESULTS: We identified 58 studies that met the inclusion criteria (25 interrupted time-series studies and 33 controlled before-after studies). Most of the studies (54) assessed a single policy implemented in the United States (US) healthcare system: Medicare Part D. The other four assessed other drug insurance schemes from Canada and the US, but only one of them provided analysable data for inclusion in the quantitative synthesis. The introduction of drug insurance schemes may increase prescription drug use (low-certainty evidence). On the other hand, Medicare Part D may decrease drug expenditure measured as both out-of-pocket spending and total drug spending (low-certainty evidence). Regarding healthcare utilisation, drug insurance policies (such as Medicare Part D) may lead to a small increase in visits to the emergency department. However, it is uncertain whether this type of policy increases or decreases hospital admissions or outpatient visits by beneficiaries of the scheme because the certainty of the evidence was very low. Likewise, it is uncertain if the policy increases or reduces health outcomes such as mortality because the certainty of the evidence was very low.
AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: The introduction of drug insurance schemes such as Medicare Part D in the US health system may increase prescription drug use and may decrease out-of-pocket payments by the beneficiaries of the scheme and total drug expenditures. It may also lead to a small increase in visits to the emergency department by the beneficiaries of the policy. Its effects on other healthcare utilisation outcomes and on health outcomes are uncertain because of the very low certainty of the evidence. The applicability of this evidence to settings outside US healthcare is limited.