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Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

Who Gets Helped By Prescription Drug Coupons?

Who Gets Helped By Prescription Drug Coupons?

April 1, 2010

“[Prescription drug coupons are] a marketing tool, which pharmaceutical companies use to introduce and expand the use of brand-name drugs,” according to GIC Executive Director Dolores Mitchell, commenting in yesterday's Herald on the latest attempts to override the existing ban on these programs in Massachusetts. We agree.

At issue is H. 4320, which would permit prescription drug coupons in the Commonwealth. Proponents argue that they would cut out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs. However, the number of consumers who could benefit from these coupons is extremely uncertain and there is clear financial harm in lifting the ban. Drug coupons are a way to entice consumers into purchasing more expensive brand-name drugs, where the biggest beneficiaries are the drug companies. Additionally, once the initial supply of coupons in exhausted, the consumer is left paying the high co-pay for the duration of the prescription.

Prescription drug coupons will hinder critical cost-containment efforts in the Commonwealth because, like any marketing tool, they will cause consumers to use brand-name drugs. The result will be that overall prescription drug expenditures in the state will rise. Prescription drugs account for 10-12% of health insurance premiums and lifting the ban will cause premiums to rise even higher than they are projected to rise. It should be noted that the federal government does not allow prescription drug coupon use for Medicare and Medicaid patients. Drug companies should lower the cost of medications so that patients can receive true savings.
-April Seligman