Objectives In August 2016, new prescription guidelines were introduced in Hungary to reduce the co-payments for antibiotics among children aged 0-4. This study aims at analysing the implementation of this policy and its effect on the use of antibiotics.
Methods The analysis is based on administrative prescription records between January 2010—February 2018, covering the entire population of Hungary aged 0-7. Spatial autocorrelation indices are calculated and settlement level regression models are estimated to analyse the spatial variation in the application of the new guidelines. The effect of reduced co-payments on antibiotic use is estimated with a difference-in-differences type model: the treatment and control groups are children aged 0-4 and 5-7, respectively; the treatment and control periods are August 2016—February 2018 and January 2010—July 2016, respectively.
Results The new prescription guidelines are more widely applied in settlements with higher per capita income and lower unemployment rate. Adherence to the new guidelines is spatially clustered. A 10–15% decrease in the out-of-pocket costs of antibiotics is estimated to increase the consumption of antibiotics by about 5% (95% CI: 2.63%–7.55%).
Conclusions In the absence of clear enforcement mechanisms, the adoption of the new prescription guidelines is selective, contradicting the aims of the policy of making antibiotics affordable for the poor children. The results point to the possible role of physicians’ information networks in the application of prescription guidelines. The use of antibiotics among children aged 0-4 is responsive to the price subsidy of antibiotics.