Copay Cards and Coupons: Letting the Facts Get in the Way

Jan 01, 2012


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In recent months, Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) have emerged as vocal critics of the drug industry's reliance on copay cards, coupons, and other tools to help patients offset the cost of innovative brand-name medicines. The PBMs' leading trade group—the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association—has taken the position that the practice represents an additional driver of costs to the healthcare system. Hence the opportunity arises for a potentially useful debate focused around the following question: Do copay cards simply deflect costs from industry and patients back to the payer, or do they instead provide a richer social benefit by delivering access to proven therapies, raising patient adherence rates and generating a superior public health outcome? Mason Tenaglia, managing director of the Amundsen Group and a member of Pharm Exec's Editorial Advisory Board, weighs in this month with a critique of the evidence behind the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association (PCMA) position—and a spirited defense of current industry practice:

PCMA's position is neatly summarized in a new white paper, "How Copay Coupons Could Raise Prescription Drug Costs by Over $32 Billion Over the Next Decade," which has led to heavy and largely favorable coverage in the media. Unfortunately, it was picked up by the mainstream media and led to a series of newspaper, magazine, radio, and television reports that indict the pharmaceutical industry at large. Unfortunately, no one bothered to ask questions or check the facts on any of the assertions made by the white paper's authors. The arguments against, which attack the use of copay offset programs—such as the claim that copay offset cards lead to less generic utilization and cost the employers and states more for prescription coverage—are not backed up by a single analysis of actual data in any therapeutic class. Amundsen Group believes that now is a good time to let the facts get in the way of this indictment of the industry.

Over the last several years, we have studied the value of coupon and copay card offset programs to manufacturers and patients across a wide range of therapeutic classes. We have analyzed both redemption data sent to our clients by the copay card offset program vendors (McKesson, Cegedim, PSKW, Triple i, etc.) and in Anonymous Patient Longitudinal Data (APLD) licensed to our clients by Wolters Kluwer in more than 30 retail and specialty therapeutic markets. In the raw APLD data, we can identify secondary payers (the copay card offset vendors) and through a "look-back," can determine whether a patient who used an offset was new to therapy, switched from a competing brand or generic, or was a continuing patient.

These two data sources and a longitudinal approach are critical to a fair and fact-based analysis of the cost and value of copay card utilization. PCMA charges that their members cannot see these "shadow transactions," but yet has drawn sweeping conclusions about the impact of copay programs nonetheless. Inferences from the design of a single new program—the $4 copay card offset program for Lipitor, and its impact after November 2011, can simply not be applied to all brands and therapeutic classes.

Our empirical analysis and experience would lead to a very different set of conclusions.

1. Copay card program usage is not correlated with lower generic utilization in any of the major therapeutic classes;

2. Coupons are most frequently used by patients taking the least expensive brands for employers and insurers;

3. Most of the money invested by U.S. branded pharmaceutical companies into copay card offset programs goes into specialty and biologic products or therapies that have no available generic alternatives and benefit PCMA's members as much as the pharmaceutical companies; and

4. The return on investment for most brands comes from higher adherence to therapies that have already been chosen by the physician and patient.

For the vast majority of the $4 billion that we estimate the industry will spend in 2011, coupons and copay card offset programs are the only way of ensuring that a brand's patients can always get affordable access to medications and the most cost-effective way of ensuring patient adherence to prescription therapy. It seems unfathomable that PCMA could argue that affordability and extended medication adherence are bad things for patients, employers, insurers or healthcare providers.

Moreover, we believe that these programs should be made available to "standard eligible" patients in Medicare Part D who carry the greatest individual cost burden for prescription medications and who are the least compliant, least persistent patients in the U.S.