The disparity in access to new medication by type of health insurance: lessons from Germany

Med Care. 2004 May;42(5):487-91. doi: 10.1097/01.mlr.0000124265.13559.02.


Background: Drug provision within the German statutory health insurance system has undergone several reforms, including the introduction of drug macrobudgets in 1993.

Objective: The objective of this study was to investigate the extent to which statutorily (SHI) and fully privately (PHI) health-insured patients were provided with new medication recommended by professional bodies in an equitable fashion using the example of migraine patients.

Research design: We conducted a retrospective cohort study.

Setting: A total of 367 primary-care practices (MediPlus, IMS Health) in Germany in the second year of the HealthCare Structural Reform Act were studied.

Subjects: Subjected consisted of 7703 SHI and 470 PHI migraineurs (International Classification of Diseases, 10th edition G43) aged 18 to 65 years at their first migraine prescription visit in 1994.

Outcome measure: We compared prescription of oral or subcutaneous serotonin 5HT1B/1D receptor agonist sumatriptan with nonserotoninergic migraine therapy.

Results: In multiplicative risk regression with variance estimation accounting for clustering of patients within practices, PHI patients were 2.3 times (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.6-3.3) more likely to receive sumatriptan than their SHI counterparts at the mean age of the cohorts (43 years) adjusted for incident versus prevalent migraine treatment, the gender of the patient, the age, gender, and primary care specialist group of the physician, and the type and the community size class of the practice. This disparity widened by 38% (95% CI, 1-88%) every 10 years of patient age.

Conclusion: Even though virtually everyone in Germany has health insurance and drug coverage, use of new and recommended migraine medicines was less common among those with SHI compared with their privately insured counterparts. Systematic studies of access to health care recommended by professional bodies will be critically important to ensure delivery of high-quality health care for all patients.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Drug Prescriptions / economics
  • Drug Prescriptions / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Germany
  • Health Services Accessibility*
  • Health Services Research
  • Humans
  • Insurance, Health / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Migraine Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data
  • Primary Health Care
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Serotonin Receptor Agonists / economics
  • Serotonin Receptor Agonists / therapeutic use*
  • Sumatriptan / economics
  • Sumatriptan / therapeutic use*


  • Serotonin Receptor Agonists
  • Sumatriptan