• Article

The Effects of Antihypertensive Step-Therapy Protocols on Pharmaceutical and Medical Utilization and Expenditures

To examine the effects of antihypertensive step therapy on prescription drug utilization and spending, and other medical care utilization and spending.
Pre/post design.
Employers who had implemented step therapy were compared with employers who had not implemented step therapy. Data were drawn from the 2003 through 2006 MarketScan Research Databases. The study sample included employees and dependents who used antihypertensives (11,851 patients whose employer implemented a step-therapy protocol and 30,882 patients in the comparison group without step therapy). Multivariate generalized estimating equation models were used to estimate the immediate and time-varying effects of step therapy on medical and prescription drug spending and utilization, while controlling for important covariates and adjusting for clustering by patient.
Results showed an initial 7.9% reduction in antihypertensive medication days supplied and an initial 3.1% reduction in medication costs among antihypertensive users in the step-therapy plans. However, these percentages grew in each subsequent quarter. Antihypertensive users in step-therapy programs also experienced an increase in inpatient admissions and emergency room visits. After an initial decline in spending, the step-therapy group incurred $99 more per user in quarterly expenditures than the comparison group.
The intended effect of step therapy is to substitute cheaper and equivalently effective medications for more expensive medications. As this study demonstrates, step therapy may create barriers to receiving any medication, resulting in higher medical utilization and costs. Further research is needed to understand why these unintended consequences occur and how they might be avoided


Mark, T., Gibson, T. B., & McGuigan, K. (2009). The Effects of Antihypertensive Step-Therapy Protocols on Pharmaceutical and Medical Utilization and Expenditures. American Journal of Managed Care, 15(2), 123-131. [PMID: 19284809].