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Study: O-T-Cs save health care system billions

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Scott Melville

WASHINGTON — Over-the-counter (O-T-C) medicines save the U.S. health care system nearly $146 billion a year, a new study has found.

The report, “Value of O-T-C Medicines to the U.S. Healthcare System,” which was released by the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA), found that, on average, each dollar spent on O-T-Cs saves the national system approximately $7.20, totaling nearly $146 billion in annual savings.

In partnership with Information Resources Inc. (IRI), the study examined survey responses of more than 5,000 consumers and determined that savings from the availability of O-T-Cs come from two major categories: nearly $52 billion in drug cost savings (lower-priced O-T-Cs versus prescription drugs); and, nearly $95 billion in cost savings due to avoidance of unnecessary clinical visits. The study estimated that nearly 90% of consumers who treat a condition with an O-T-C would seek professional medical treatment if O-T-Cs were unavailable, forcing the health care system to absorb unnecessary office visits from hundreds of millions of consumers who could otherwise self-treat.

“It’s hard to imagine what life would be like if O-T-C medicines weren’t available,” said Scott Melville, president and chief executive officer of CHPA. “For this study, researchers actually mapped out a scenario where nonprescription options weren’t available to determine the value of O-T-Cs to our health care system. Not surprisingly, in that scenario they found most consumers would go to a doctor, get a prescription, or delay treatment and suffer the consequences, like more frequent absences from work, for example. There are direct and indirect costs associated with each of these scenarios. And they are enormous.”

The study analyzed nine O-T-C categories to identify the primary contributors of savings. The categories — allergy, analgesics, antifungals, cough/cold/flu, lower GI, medicated skin, upper GI, sleep, and smoking cessation —  represent the majority of O-T-Cs purchased in the U.S. Three categories: medicated skin, lower GI, and upper GI, accounted for 61% of the total O-T-C savings, driven primarily by the price difference between O-T-Cs and their prescription counterparts.

When determining the value across the four categories of insurance segments within the health care system (cash, commercial, Medicaid, and Medicare), nearly half of the $146 billion in value was generated in the commercial market. Approximately $73.6 billion dollars, or 50.3% of total savings, were captured by commercial plans. Commercial plans include a plurality of consumers, with a 48% share of consumers, while cash, Medicaid, and Medicare plans comprise 13%, 20%, and 19% of the market, respectively.

“The evidence is clear that O-T-C medicines help ease the tremendous burden on the health care system by empowering consumer self-care, thereby allowing over-stretched health care practitioners to focus on the diagnosis and treatment of patients with more serious diseases and medical conditions,” said Melville.

Additional key findings from the study include:

  • O-T-Cs provide additional value through expanded access for more than 27 million consumers who would otherwise forgo treatment — more than 13 million Americans for allergies alone.
  • When factoring in time missed during work hours to seek treatment or obtain a prescription, the availability of O-T-Cs produces an additional savings of approximately $34 billion in potential workplace productivity benefits annually.
  • O-T-C medical devices — including products for pain relief, foot comfort and care, heat/ice packs, muscle simulators, asthma inhalers, etc. — also generate significant additional value to the health care system, totaling $7.7 billion annually for treatment and testing.

More information is available at www.overthecountervalue.org.


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