Rx copay cards: There's an easier way

November 3, 2009

Instead of giving out cards that reduce the copay of a prescription, why not just decrease the price per bottle of medication?

Key Points

I was driving down the road on my day off the other day, listening to one of my favorite radio stations, when the program went to commercial. After hearing about all the benefi ts of Stimul-x and the great deals on all the 2009 Mitsubishis still on the lot of a local mega-car dealer, a commercial for Lipitor came on.

Furthermore, the commercial wasn't saying, "Hey, have your doctor put you on Lipitor, because it's great."

It's not the Lipitor card itself that is so troublesome; it's copay cards in general. In my pharmacy, the most frequently used copay cards are for Lipitor, Nexium, and Crestor. Then there are the checks/coupons for Advair, Vesicare, Veramyst ... You get the picture: all kinds of discount offers to help with the copays for patients. I think I even saw something recently for $100 off on Cellcept.

And just for good measure, let's not forget all the wonderful cards that the dermatologists hand out. Just a few days ago I had a young lady present three prescriptions from her dermatologist, each with its own copay card. Does it really cost so much to make extended-release minocycline that you have to offer a copay card to get the patients to fill the scripts?

In theory, these programs are good. They decrease the out-of-pocket expense for the patients and make them feel good because somebody is helping them with the perceived high cost of medication. They make the manufacturers look good because they are helping out the patients. It's a win-win situation for both the manufacturer and the patient.

But these programs leave the pharmacist and pharmacy staff in the middle. We're the ones doing all the legwork to get the discounts to the patients. After listening to the patients complain about the high cost of medications (over which we have no control), we process the discount cards/coupons and receive maybe two dollars for our trouble.

Here are my thoughts on what really should be done to help with the high cost of medication. The copay cards and coupons are nice and all, but why not just decrease the price per bottle of medication?

Instead of giving out three cards that take 30 bucks off the copay of a prescription, why not just decrease the price of a 90-count bottle of Nexium by 90 dollars? That way, the insurance plan will save money and (hopefully) pass the savings on to the consumer. Maybe the fact that there's no reduced copay would help drive insurance premiums down. For the pharmacy, that's 90 fewer dollars that have to be spent upfront in inventory costs. Multiply that by several bottles of about 15 different drugs and you can see your inventory costs fall.

Those are my thoughts from behind my pharmacy counter.

Eric Durbin, RPh, lives in Sugarcreek, Ohio. He can be reached at ericrph@msn.com
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