“Co-pay cards” (or “co-pay coupons”) are financial assistance programs from drug manufacturers (pharma) that drastically reduce the out-of-pocket (OOP) costs for someone who needs an expensive medication. These programs are controversial:
- Pharma and patients believe that these programs allow sick people to afford the medications they need.
- Healthcare payers (ie, insurance companies or their pharmacy benefit managers [PBMs]), however, regard such programs as schemes that circumvent their cost-management techniques (such as formulary tiers and patient cost-sharing). This is because with no financial impact from OOP costs, doctors and patients could decide to use more expensive drugs than the ones preferred by the insurance plans (eg, generic or well-established branded drugs).
Because of these opposing points of view, payers have tried (with limited success) to disallow co-pay cards if possible, and pharma is developing new ways to circumvent payer controls. This “cat-and-mouse” game has antagonized payer-pharma relationships as each are pursuing different goals: payers are trying to manage expensive medication use, whereas pharma is trying to maximize their sales and prescription volumes.