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Patients with chronic health conditions often require taking medications for extended time periods and the cost burden can prevent them from taking the needed prescription drug(s).

Researchers at the Rand Health, a division of Rand Corporation, suggest a “two-part-pricing” scheme for chronic health care patients. They base their proposal on how products outside the medical world are marketed, like Internet service, cable and satellite television, all you-can-eat buffets, and country club memberships. These are all examples of a pricing plan where consumers pay a set fee to cover a period of time with unlimited access to the service. This allows users to use as much–or little–as they need. Since 1998 prescription drug cost has risen 10%, twice the 5% rate increase experienced by all other health care costs.

Pharmaceuticals for chronic health conditions are similar to services that consumers license for a period of time (i.e. cable access) because there are few good substitutes and the license fees allow providers to reduce costs. For example a drug-licensing system might be used to pay for statin drugs (used to treat high cholesterol). Based on the current costs of the drugs researchers propose consumers pay a $195 annual license fee, which is equal to what most consumers pay out-of-pocket yearly for the drug.

What is significant is the shift from a monthly out-of-pocket payments by consumers would increase patients’ compliance for taking the drug. Currently, the annual compliance for patients using statins is estimated at 7.8 months annually. Researchers feel that with the new pricing plan that figure would increase to 9.8 months.

A compliance increase for prescribed medications among patients may result in fewer long-term health problems, which means lower overall costs to insurance providers–according to the study.

One objection of the proposed plan is that the up-front cost may discourage some patients from starting drugs, but researchers believe that could be overcome by allowing monthly payment plans.