In the study, the total number of heart attacks, strokes, cases of chest pain or heart failure and other such problems was significantly lower in the group offered free medicine.
That meant that an additional 2 of every 100 people were spared such problems because they were offered free medicines. Doctors suspect the difference between the groups would have been greater if more people had actually filled their prescriptions.
Costs dropped 26 percent for patients in the free drug group compared with the others, partly because of fewer doctor visits, lab tests and hospitalizations.
The costs for the insurer averaged $69,997 over a year for those with the usual coverage and $64,726 for those offered free medicines. That was not considered a significant difference statistically, but insurers looking at the bottom line would still view it as worthwhile.
Dr. Lonny Reisman, an author of the study and chief medical officer for Aetna, said the company plans to offer some of these drugs free or with a reduced copay to some heart attack survivors and is considering doing do so for other chronic conditions such as diabetes and chronic lung disease.
The study may persuade other insurers to do the same, Goldman and Epstein said.
Heart Association: www.americanheart.org
New England Journal: www.nejm.org
Marilynn Marchione can be followed at twitter.com/MMarchioneAP
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