Free prescriptions for low‐income pensioners? The cost of returning to free‐of‐charge drugs in the Spanish National Health Service

Jaume Puig‐Junoy | Jaime Pinilla


This study estimated the impact of reducing a capped low coinsurance rate for outpatient medicines to nil for low‐income pensioners and disabled
individuals in the Valencian Community (Spain). This reduction was implemented in January 2016 as a regional reform which modified the national cost‐sharing reform adopted in July 2012. The impact of this intervention on the number of monthly prescriptions dispensed between July 2012 and December 2018 was estimated using two different approaches of the synthetic control method, the classical method and the method based on Bayesian structural time series. The estimates from both methods were similar, showing significant overall increases of 6.34% and 6.70% [95% credible interval: 4.05, 9.47], respectively in the number of prescriptions dispensed in this region. These results are similar to those of the previous studies indicating that reducing price from a small amount to zero discontinuously boosts demand. This evidence indicates that the impact of this intervention on the budget of the regional health service is far greater than the amount of the subsidy in the public budget. These results are useful for making accurate budgetary projections for similar eliminations of charges for low‐income pensioners in the Spanish National Health Service.

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