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Free drugs help avoid repeat heart attacks

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Say you've had a heart attack and your insurer offered you free medicines to help prevent another one. Doctors did that in a major study and were stunned to find that only about half of patients took them.

Those who did had fewer heart-related problems and saved $500 on average for health care over a year. And it didn't cost the insurer more; in fact, costs were trending lower because of fewer hospitalizations.

"People don't get as sick, and it's people getting sick that costs the most money," said Dr. Lonny Reisman, an author on the study and chief medical officer for Aetna, one of its sponsors.

Aetna plans to start offering some of these drugs for free or with a reduced co-payment to some heart attack survivors and is researching whether to do so for other chronic conditions such as diabetes and chronic lung disease, Reisman told The Associated Press. This study may persuade other insurers to do the same, heart specialists said.

"A drug only works if it's taken," said Dr. Eric Peterson of Duke University. "Adherence in America is miserable." Only 10 percent of patients in this study were taking all medicines they should one year after a heart attack, said Peterson, who had no role in the work.

It was proposed and led by Dr. Niteesh Choudhry of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, who presented results yesterday at an American Heart Association conference in Florida. They also were published online by the New England Journal of Medicine.

In one survey, a third of Americans said that because of cost they didn't fill a prescription or used less medicine than they should because of cost.

-- AP