John Goodman points to a narrow study with some broadly suggestive results:
At first glance, the study appears to focus on a rather narrow set of issues. Although most states try to limit Medicaid expenses by restricting patients to a one-month supply of drugs, South Carolina for a period of time allowed patients to have a three-month supply. Then the state reduced the allowable one-stop supply from 100 days of medication to 34 days and at the same raised the copayment on some drugs from $1 to $3. Think of the first change as raising the time price of care (the number of required pharmacy visits tripled) and the second as raising the money price of care (which also tripled).This is actually not inconsistent with other findings. For example, every time we get a health care expansion, people predict large falls in emergency room usage. Supposedly, we'll save huge sums by shifting people from expensive ER visits to cheap primary care sessions. Unfortunately, the savings have been elusive; in Massachusetts, the largest such experiment we have to date, ER visits actually rose.
The result: A tripling of the time price of care led to a much greater reduction in needed drugs obtained by chronically ill patients than a tripling of the money price, all other things remaining equal.
This study pertained to certain drugs and certain medical conditions. But suppose the findings are more general. Suppose that for most poor people and most health care, time is a bigger deterrent than money. What then?