Employers offering free meds for chronic diseases

Convinced, at long last, that smart disease management saves more money than creating financial barriers to care, some employers have begun to give away the drugs needed to treat common chronic conditions. In the past, employers have increasingly tried to cut healthcare costs by asking employees to pay higher premiums and out-of-pocket costs. Now, some employers have decided that it's cheaper to give away the drugs that treat expensive, lingering diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma and depression.

Statistics have shown that despite putting higher drug co-pays in place, and cutting their drug spending, employers are still seeing large healthcare costs increases. In response, large firms like Marriott International, Pitney Bowes, Mohawk Industries, Eastman Chemical and other big players have begun experimenting with the free-meds approach, coupled with more traditional strategies such as nurse phone outreach to patients.

This strategy, which some see as an attempt to fend off state health reform legislation, has won support from pharmacos like Pfizer and Merck. The pharmas, like employers, feel that this initiative might stave off tough governmental regulation of health care delivery. "If we all don't do a better job...the country will move forward toward rationing of care and greater governmental control," wrote Richard T. Clark, chief executive of Merck, in a recent article in the American Journal of Managed Care.

To find out more about this trend:
- read this New York Times piece