New Study: Over-the-Counter (OTC) Products Used by Millions of Americans Saves Healthcare System Billions Annually

Cost savings from reduced need for clinical visits and prescription drugs due to OTCs saves U.S. health system $146 billion annually

WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 18, 2019) — Today, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) released a new study, “Value of OTC Medicines to the U.S. Healthcare System,” that found, on average, each dollar spent on over-the-counter (OTC) medicines saves the U.S. healthcare system approximately $7.20, totaling nearly $146 billion in annual savings. 

In partnership with Information Resources, Inc. (IRI), the study examined survey results of more than 5,000 consumers and determined that cost savings due to the availability of OTC medicine come from two major categories: nearly $52 billion in drug cost savings (lower-priced OTCs versus prescription drugs); and, nearly $95 billion in cost savings due to avoidance of unnecessary clinical visits. The study estimated that nearly 90 percent of consumers who treat a condition with an OTC medicine would seek professional medical treatment if OTC medicines were not available in the marketplace, forcing the healthcare system to absorb unnecessary office visits from hundreds of millions of consumers who could otherwise self-treat.

“It’s hard to imagine what life would be like if OTC medicines weren’t available,” said Scott Melville, president and CEO of CHPA. “For this study, researchers actually mapped out a scenario where non-prescription options weren’t available to determine the value of OTCs to our healthcare system.  Not surprisingly, in that scenario they found most consumers would go to a doctor, get a prescription, or delay treatment and suffer the consequences, like more frequent absences from work, for example. There are direct and indirect costs associated with each of these scenarios. And they are enormous.”

The study analyzed nine OTC categories to identify the primary contributors of cost savings to the healthcare system. The categories include allergy, analgesics, antifungals, cough/cold/flu, lower GI, medicated skin, upper GI, sleep, and smoking cessation - which represent the majority of OTC medicine purchased in the U.S. Three categories, medicated skin, lower GI, and upper GI, comprised 61 percent of the total OTC savings, driven primarily by the price difference between OTC products and their prescription counterparts.

When determining the value across the four categories of insurance segments within the healthcare system (cash, commercial, Medicaid, and Medicare), nearly half of the $146 billion in value was generated in the commercial market. Approximately $73.6 billion dollars, or 50.3 percent of total savings, were captured by commercial plans. Commercial plans include a plurality of consumers, with a 48 percent share of consumers, while cash, Medicaid, and Medicare plans comprise 13 percent, 20 percent, and 19 percent of the market respectively.

“The evidence is clear that OTC medicines help ease the tremendous burden on the healthcare system by empowering consumer self-care, thereby allowing over-stretched healthcare practitioners to focus on the diagnosis and treatment of patients with more serious diseases and medical conditions,” said Melville. 

Additional key findings from the study include:


  • OTC medicines provide additional value through expanded access to more than 27 million consumers who would otherwise forgo treatment – more than 13 million Americans for allergies alone.

  • When factoring in time missed during work hours to seek treatment or obtain a prescription, the availability of OTC medicines produces an additional savings of approximately $34 billion in potential workplace productivity benefits annually.

  • OTC medical devices – including products for pain relief, foot comfort and care, heat/ice packs, muscle simulators, asthma inhalers, etc. – also generate significant additional value to the healthcare system, totaling $7.7 billion annually for treatment and testing.


For more information, infographics, video, and other materials regarding this research, visit


The Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) is the 138-year-old national trade association representing the leading manufacturers and marketers of over-the-counter (OTC) medicines and dietary supplements. Every dollar spent by consumers on OTC medicines saves the U.S. healthcare system more than $7, contributing a total of nearly $146 billion in savings each year. CHPA is committed to empowering self-care by preserving and expanding choice and availability of consumer healthcare products. 

Contact: Lauren Bloomberg (