Feb 15, 2022 - Health

The growing evidence against drug copay cards

The back of a pharmacy, with shelves filled with bottles of pills and medications.

If there is a brand-name drug on this shelf, odds are its maker offers a coupon. Photo: George Frey/AFP via Getty Images

Drug copay coupons make medications free or very cheap for patients at the pharmacy counter. But they drastically increase the amounts paid by employers, insurers and other workers, a new study conducted by a trio of health economists concludes.

Why it matters: The study adds further evidence to the idea that drug copay cards are a great short-term deal for patients — and especially the pharmaceutical companies that promote them — but a bad long-term deal for society.

Details: Drug copay cards are banned from federal health care programs, and there could be sizable savings if they were not allowed in private health plans.

  • The researchers estimated the health care system could save $1 billion annually if copay cards were banned — and that's just for multiple sclerosis drugs.

What to watch: "Our results suggest that popular policy proposals such as capping cost-sharing, or requiring plans to shift from coinsurance to fixed (and low) copays are likely to lead to" higher drug prices, the economists wrote.

  • "These reforms would likely exacerbate the underlying problem of high prices while addressing a symptom (high patient cost-sharing)."

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