Thursday, May 6, 2021

Co-Pay Accumulators are an Extremely Dangerous, Anti-Patient Policy

By: Brandon M. Macsata, CEO, ADAP Advocacy Association

Today's lexicon outside healthcare policy discussions probably doesn't include the words, co-pay accumulators. But that is slowly changing as more and more people encounter what is widely recognized as an extremely anti-patient health insurance policy. Co-pay accumulators amount to nothing more than the greedy health insurance industry (and other payers) making prescription drug coverage less affordable for patients, especially for those living with chronic health conditions such as HIV/AIDS.

The Hepatitis B Foundation defines a copay accumulator (or accumulator adjustment program) as "a strategy used by insurance companies and Pharmacy Benefits Managers (PBMs) that stop manufacturer copay assistance coupons from counting towards two things: 1) the deductible and 2) the maximum out-of-pocket spending."[1]

Last year in the ADAP Blog, guest contributor Marcus J. Hopkins provided an excellent description on these potentially harmful policies: "Essentially, what a co-pay accumulator attempts to do is increase the amount of money consumers pay in order to decrease the amount of money insurers have to pay, once their annual deductible and/or Out-of-Pocket Maximum (OPM) is met. When consumers are allowed to count co-pay assistance cards against their deductible/OPM, they reach those limits sooner, meaning that insurers are then on the hook for every pharmaceutical fill after that date."[2]

Photo Source: Bankrate

Co-pay accumulators are particularly problematic for the HIV community because they rely on specialty drugs, such as anti-retroviral medications. In 2018, Dr. Adam J. Fein with the Drug Channels Institute warned, "Patients today are being asked to pay a significant share of prescription costs for more-expensive specialty drugs, because of high coinsurance amounts."[3]

Unfortunately, increasingly health insurance companies and PBMs have elected to institute co-pay accumulators. Make no mistake about it, but these co-pay accumulators will lead to patients being unable to afford their medication...and that will lead to less medication adherence...and that will lead to higher costs for the entire healthcare system. Our response is simple: It is time to advocate for the patient!

The AIDS Institute recently published an in-depth report, "Double Dipping: Insurance Companies Profit at Patients' Expense - An Updated Report on Copay Accumulators." According to the report's findings, in 45 states and the District of Columbia, there is at least one plan with a copay accumulator adjustment policy.[4]

For people living with chronic health conditions, such as HIV or viral hepatitis, co-pay accumulators generally pose significant problems for patients. As the report highlights: "With the many crises plaguing our health care system today, this very confusing issue can easily be dismissed. However, for the patients it affects, it simply cannot be ignored. And for those who haven’t experienced a copay accumulator yet, it may only be a matter of time."[5]

The problem for patients is much broader, though. According to the Patient Access Network Foundation (PAN), more than 10 percent of seniors shared that they took on credit card debt to afford prescriptions, while nearly 20 percent of seniors said they reduced spending on everyday purchases, including groceries and transportation.[6]

The patient pays less
Photo Source: PAN Foundation

The Biden-Harris Administration recently had the opportunity to pump the brakes on co-pay accumulators, similar to the way they stopped the harmful demonstration project designed to weaken the six protected drug classes under Medicare's Part D. They failed to so, and the patient advocacy community was quick to express its concern.

“We are deeply disappointed that CMS passed on addressing the issue of copay assistance for prescription drugs and requiring insurers and pharmacy benefit managers to count assistance towards patient out-of-pocket cost-sharing and deductibles,” commented Carl Schmid, executive director of the HIV+Hepatitis Policy Institute. “Even before COVID-19, patients were struggling to afford their medications and relied on copay assistance from drug manufacturers. Now, the need is even greater. We know that the Biden-Harris administration wants to improve patient affordability of healthcare, particularly for vulnerable communities; however, they missed a perfect opportunity to demonstrate this commitment.”[7]

In a recent letterU.S. Representatives A. Donald McEachin (VA-04) and Rodney Davis (IL-13) asked President Biden to halt the Trump Administration's copay accumulator policy ― which was included in the 2021 Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters (NBPP).[8] It is now left in the hands of the Congress to reverse course on the extremely dangerous, anti-patient policy known as co-pay accumulators. Patient health depends on it!

[1] Hepatitis B Foundation (2020, March 4). Copay Accumulators – What They Are and What They Mean For Your Prescriptions. Retrieved online at–%20or%20accumulator%20adjustment%20program,the%20deductible%20and%202%29%20the%20maximum%20out-of-pocket%20spending.

[2] Marcus J. Hopkins (2020, July 16). CMS Co-Pay Accumulator Rule Aims to Increase Consumer Costs. The ADAP Blog. ADAP Advocacy Association. Retrieved online at

[3] Adam J. Fein, Ph.D. (2018, January 3). Copay Accumulators: Costly Consequences of a New Cost-Shifting Pharmacy Benefit. Drug Channels. Retrieved online at

[4] The AIDS Institute (March 2021). Double Dipping: Insurance Companies Profit at Patients' Expense - An Updated Report on Copay Accumulators. Retrieved online at

[5] The AIDS Institute (March 2021). Double Dipping: Insurance Companies Profit at Patients' Expense - An Updated Report on Copay Accumulators. Retrieved online at

[6] Amy Niles (2021, April 19). Morning Consult survey: high out-of-pocket costs causing concern for seniors. PAN Foundation. Retrieved online at 

[7] Carl Schmid (2021, April 30). Biden Administration Passes on Protecting Patient Affordability of Medications. HIV+Hepatitis Policy Institute. Retrieved online at  

[8] The Honorable A. Donald McEachin (2021, March 22). McEachin Leads Bipartisan Letter Asking President Biden to Reverse Previous Administration’s Copay Accumulator Policy. The Office of U.S. Representative A. Donald McEachin (VA-04). Retrieved online at

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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