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Utilization of over-the-counter analgesics in two private medical insurance schemes in South Africa

Authors Padayachee N, Rothberg AD, Truter I, Butkow N

Received 3 December 2018

Accepted for publication 9 May 2019

Published 17 July 2019 Volume 2019:11 Pages 37—45


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single anonymous peer review

Peer reviewer comments 2

Editor who approved publication: Professor Siew Siang Chua

Neelaveni Padayachee,1 Alan D Rothberg,2 Ilse Truter,3 Neil Butkow1

1Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa; 2School of Therapeutic Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa; 3Department of Pharmacy, Nelson Mandela University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Introduction: In South Africa there is an easy access to over-the-counter (OTC) medicines and expenditure is high. Certain OTC products are available to the public in general stores, while others may only be available at pharmacies. It is also common for OTC medicines to be prescribed by a doctor for treatment of minor illnesses. Individuals with medical insurance usually have cover for these products, but typically only to a limited extent.
Aim: To investigate the utilization patterns in two medical insurance schemes of OTC analgesic products in the Anatomical Therapeutic Chemical (ATC) category N02BE51 which includes medicines containing paracetamol and varying combinations of codeine, caffeine and antihistamines.
Methodology: Data were obtained for two benefit plans, one with generous, high benefits (HI), the other with lower benefits (LO). Data covered utilization of OTC medicines in the N02BE51 group, indicating whether the medicines were purchased at a pharmacy or dispensed by a doctor. Doctors were further categorised as contracted/network or non-network providers. Product costs and volumes were analysed according to access directly by the beneficiary, recommendation by a pharmacist, or prescription from a doctor.
Results: Compared to doctors, pharmacists issued more-expensive products. Average costs were higher in the HI plan compared to the LO plan. Pharmacists showed a preference for dispensing larger and more expensive pack sizes. Doctors showed better cost containment: the average cost of products in HI was twice that of LO. Doctors dispensing directly to patients issued smaller pack sizes and lower-priced products. Contracted network doctors did not appear to impact on costs.
Conclusion: Among the privately-insured individuals studied, the avaiIability, cost and formulation of N02BE51 OTC products appeared to be poorly regulated, whether by the consumer, pharmacist, medical insurance scheme or legislation. Doctors demonstrate better cost containment by prescribing less costly, smaller pack-size alternatives compared to pharmacists.

Keywords: paracetamol, codeine, anti-histamines, pharmacists, doctors, cost, pack size

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