Paying for formerly free medicines in Spain after 1 year of co-payment: changes in the number of dispensed prescriptions

Appl Health Econ Health Policy. 2014 Jun;12(3):279-87. doi: 10.1007/s40258-014-0097-6.


Background: After more than three decades of free medicines for the elderly in Spain, in the context of heavy austerity reforms of public financing, a set of cost-sharing reforms on pharmaceutical prescriptions with regional variants have been established in Spain since July 2012.

Objective: The purpose of this analysis is to present the first attempt to provide accurate estimates of the overall impact at the regional level of these cost-sharing reforms.

Methods: We estimated the impact of the reforms on the quantity of dispensed medicines during the first 14 months. We estimated 17 autoregressive integrated moving average (ARIMA) time series models of the monthly number of prescriptions dispensed in pharmacies for the period January 2003-May 2012 in each one of the 17 regions (Autonomous Communities) of Spain. We calculated dynamic forecasts for the horizon June 2012-July 2013 in order to estimate the counterfactual (number of prescriptions that would had been observed without the intervention), and we estimated the impact of cost-sharing changes as the difference between the observed number of accumulated prescriptions at 3, 6, 12, and 14 months and the number predicted by our time-series models (in percentages).

Results: During the last decade the number of dispensed prescriptions has experienced rapid and continuous increases. In the first 14 months after the co-payment reform, the total number of prescriptions decreased dramatically, by more than 20% in Catalunya, Valencia, and Galicia, by more than 15% in nine other regions, and by more than 10% in 15 of the 17 Spanish regions. The results of our model suggest that the new co-payment caused an abrupt shift in the mean level of the time series. No shift in trend has been detected; the previous positive trend remains unchanged in most of the Autonomous Communities.

Conclusion: After decades of unsuccessfully trying to reduce drug spending in the Spanish National Health System through actions on prices and on prescribers, the co-payment established in mid-2012 led to a dramatic reduction in the use of drugs. The health effects of this reduction are not known.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cost Sharing / economics
  • Cost Sharing / statistics & numerical data*
  • Drug Costs / statistics & numerical data
  • Financing, Personal / economics
  • Financing, Personal / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Policy
  • Humans
  • Prescription Drugs / economics*
  • Prescription Drugs / therapeutic use
  • Spain / epidemiology


  • Prescription Drugs