Thursday, March 8, 2018

Rx Drug Coupon Concerns Pit Prices Against Patients

By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

Drug manufacturer coupons have increasingly become a popular method of reducing the price consumers pay for their medications. Insurers, Pharmacy Benefits Managers (PBMs), and other payors, however, argue that these cost saving tools actually drive prices upward and result in patients choosing expensive brand name drugs over less expensive generic alternatives, essentially costing the payors more money, in the long run. As a result, some payors are taking the extraordinary step of no longer counting drug coupons toward patients’ out-of-pocket costs and deductibles, meaning that once patients use a coupon, they’ll be left to pay the remaining cost of the drug out-of-pocket.

When looking at how and when these coupons are used, however, Health Affairs = a leading journal in health policy thought and research – found that just 21% of coupons used in the 200 highest expenditure drugs of 2014 had a direct generic substitute, while another 28% had an “imperfect substitute.” The remaining 51% of drug had either no generic substitute or only branded alternatives (Van Nuys et al., 2018).

Januvia Rx Drug Coupon

For patients living with HIV (and, more recently, Hepatitis C), the past decade has been revolutionary in terms of the medications that have been made available to treat the disease. In 2007, most patients began treatment using a two- or three-pill regimen with various storage requirements. A year earlier, the first single-pill regimen, Atripla (Gilead), was approved by the FDA for the treatment of HIV.  In 2017, virtually patients begin HIV treatment with a single-pill regimen. The sad reality, however, is that there are no generic substitutes available in the United States for HIV drugs, and manufacturer coupons that reduce co-pays for them play a vital role in determining whether or not patients can afford the lifesaving medications they need.

“Consumers with life-threatening conditions are caught in the crossfire of an ongoing battle between insurers and drug companies over drug pricing. No matter who wins the battle, the casualties will be the patients, taxpayers, and the general public,” says Eddie Hamilton of the Columbus, Ohio-based ADAP Educational Initiative.

Rx pharmacy receipt
Photo Source: Consumer Reports

He is correct. In the rush to lower expenditures in the post-Affordable Care Act (ACA) market, insurers have increasingly begun weaponizing their drug formularies – the list of drugs payors will cover and for how much – against manufacturers to force lower pricing agreements, all of which are confidential under existing Trade Secrets laws. Placing brand name drugs in higher-cost tiers has been a relatively ineffective weapon when it comes to lowering overall prices, but has been an effective barrier to treatment for many patients living with HIV and other chronic illnesses for which there are few, if any, generic and/or effective alternatives.

This latest salvo against drug manufacturers will ultimately end up hurting consumers more than it will lower expenditures for insurers.

Disclaimer: Guest blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the ADAP Advocacy Association, but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about public health-related issues and updates. 

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