Objectives. We sought to investigate, across different socioeconomic groups, the proportion of household medicine expenses that were paid by households and the proportion paid by the Brazilian national health system. Methods. We carried out a survey in Porto Alegre, Brazil, that included 2988 individuals of all ages. We defined 2 expenditure variables: ‘‘out-of-pocket medicines value’’ (the sum of retail prices of all medicines used by family members within the previous 15 days and paid for out of pocket) and ‘‘free medicines value’’ (a similar definition for medicines obtained without charge). Results. In 2003, the Brazilian national health system provided, free of charge, 78% of the monetary value of medicines reported (79% in the bottom wealth quintile and 32% in the top 2 quintiles). The mean out-of-pocket expense for medicines was 6 times greater among the top wealth quintiles compared with those in lower quintiles, but free medicines constituted a 3-times-greater proportion of potential expenditures for medicines among the bottom quintile than among the top 2 quintiles Conclusions. Free provision of medicines seems to be saving substantial amounts of medicine expenditures for poor people in Brazil
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