Prescription Drug Coupons Deliver Little Savings

Coupons and vouchers for name-brand prescription drugs claim to cut costly out-of-pocket expenses, but they actually may be doing very little to control prices.

Coupons and vouchers for name-brand prescription drugs claim to cut costly out-of-pocket expenses, but they actually may be doing very little to control prices.

There are several reasons for the absence of actual savings. Most available coupons only cover 3-months’ supply or less of a drug, meaning the remaining refills are at full cost. Switching to a generic form of a brand-name drug is difficult for most patients. Doctors also may not be communicating about lower-cost alternatives to patients.

“Once a coupon program ends, patients with chronic diseases face copayments for these brand-name medications that are higher than those for generic alternatives,” read a recent report. “By that point, however, patients may have developed loyalty to the particular brand or may be skeptical about switching away from a medication that they perceive as effective—or they may not even be aware of alternative therapies.”

As well, because brand-name drugs typically cost more for payers, costs are then passed on to consumers through higher premiums. “The more that patients use drug coupons to obtain brand-name medications when lower-cost alternatives are available,” the report continued, “the more expenses will rise for their insurers. A predictable response from the insurers would be to raise coverage rates for all patients.”

Patients' medication adherence is likely to suffer in the absence of any discounts. Matthew Bennett, senior vice president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, says, "Today's high levels of cost sharing can pose a significant access barrier for patients, resulting in low adherence and poor health outcomes."

To ensure medication adherence does not falter due to costs, physicians must ensure consumers are aware of both the benefits and pitfalls of using prescription drug coupons.The report concluded, “Physicians need to talk to their commercially insured patients about the implications of drug-coupon use and make sure that their inclination to reduce short-term out-of-pocket spending doesn’t come at the cost of higher long-term expenses for themselves and society."

Around the Web

Check Up: Prescription-discount Coupons Have Hidden Costs [Philly.com]

Do Prescription Drug Coupons Lead To Higher Insurance Rates For Everyone? [The Consumerist]