Drug manufacturer coupons – helpful or harmful?

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For many years, companies have used coupons as a way to incent consumers to choose to buy their product over a competing brand.  From cereal to shampoo, companies distribute coupons to get consumers to buy their products.  Drug manufacturers also use this marketing technique, though in a slightly different way than a grocery coupon.

How drug coupons work

When a patient is diagnosed with, or is being medically managed for, a health condition that requires prescription drugs, often, there are a number of drugs that a physician can choose from in order to treat the condition.  Many brand name drugs have generic alternatives that are available that have the same effect in treatment, but cost significantly less than the brand name counterparts.

Drug coupons, for the most part, are available for brand name drugs only.  A patient who needs a drug might receive a coupon from their doctor, pharmacist, or from the drug manufacturer’s website.  This coupon is given to the pharmacist when the prescription is dispensed.  The pharmacist uses the coupon like a pay-direct drug card to cover the co-pay, or the out of pocket cost for a plan member.  The coupon allows the pharmacist to electronically direct all or part of the cost of a drug to the drug’s manufacturer.

This is where a drug coupon is very different from a grocery coupon:  Drug coupon programs actually present significant cost implications to your group benefits plan.

  • They are designed to direct purchases toward higher cost brand name drugs when less expensive chemically or therapeutic equivalents are available.
  • Coupons may subsidize the patient’s share of the cost, but actually increase the overall cost to treat the patient’s health condition.
  • For plans where plan members participate in the cost of a treatment or service, savings to the individual patient may come at the expense of your drug plan’s long-term sustainability by increasing claims, resulting in higher premiums.

What can you do?

Drug coupons can be very helpful for patients who don’t have coverage for prescription medication through their employer.  You can help keep your plan’s premium costs down by:

  • Working with your physician and pharmacist in selecting the best drug for you and your health condition at the lowest cost, or, using generic equivalents when they are available.

Shop around for a pharmacy with lower dispensing fees to decrease your out of pocket costs, as well as the cost of claims charged to the plan.  You can ask your pharmacist what dispensing fees he or she charges to dispense your drug to you.