RATIONALE: Few previous studies have evaluated primary adherence (whether a new prescription is filled within 30 d) to controller medications in individuals with persistent asthma. OBJECTIVE: To compare adherence to the major controller medication regimens for asthma. METHODS: This was a retrospective cohort study of enrollees from five large health plans. We used electronic medical data on patients of all ages with asthma who had experienced an asthma-related exacerbation in the prior 12 months. We studied adherence measures including proportion of days covered and primary adherence (first prescription filled within 30 d). MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: Our population included 69,652 subjects who had probable persistent asthma and were prescribed inhaled corticosteroids (ICSs), leukotriene antagonists (LTRAs), or ICS/long-acting beta-agonists (ICS/LABAs). The mean age was 37 years and 58% were female. We found that 14-20% of subjects who were prescribed controller medicines for the first time did not fill their prescriptions. The mean proportion of days covered was 19% for ICS, 30% for LTRA, and 25% for ICS/LABA over 12 months. Using multivariate logistic regression, subjects prescribed LTRA were less likely to be primary adherent than subjects prescribed ICS (odds ratio, 0.82; 95% confidence interval, 0.74-0.92) or ICS/LABA (odds ratio, 0.88; 95% confidence interval, 0.80-0.97). Black and Latino patients were less likely to fill the prescription compared with white patients. CONCLUSIONS: Adherence to controller medications for asthma is poor. In this insured population, primary adherence to ICSs was better than to LTRAs and ICS/LABAs. Adherence as measured by proportion of days covered was better for LTRAs and ICS/LABAs than for ICSs.