The millions of dollars in free samples pharmaceutical companies give to doctors each year usually end up in the hands of wealthy and insured patients rather than the poor and uninsured patients who most need them, a new study from Harvard University finds.

The study, which collected data on almost 33,000 people who participate in the annual Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, found that more than four-fifths of patients who receive samples from doctors are insured, less than one-fifth are uninsured and less than a third have low-incomes, defined as an annual salary of less than $37,000 for a family of four.

The findings were reported in the February issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

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Researchers believe the differences stem from the fact that insured Americans are more likely to be seen by a doctor in private practice, whereas poor patients are more likely to be seen in clinics.