Representatives from pharmaceutical companies are continually visiting my office bringing new, ever more generous, “copayment assistance cards” designed to make drugs more accessible. Insurers often require patients to pay a significant share of the cost for brand name medications. These patient costs can be very high. Pharmaceutical companies are helping patients have easier access to these medications by helping pay those co-payments.
But here’s the problem. The point of the copayment is to help steer patients to lower cost alternative treatments. These copayment assistance programs not only help patients get access to expensive drugs, they eliminate the incentive to choose more cost-effective medications. Without such incentives, pharmaceutical companies don’t have to compete on price.
While I love the idea of my patients having lower cost access to drugs, I am concerned that eliminating the incentive to choose cost effective treatments is going to hurt all patients in the long run through higher drug prices. While insurance companies are paying for those drugs, the money insurance companies use doesn’t grow on trees, it comes from patients’ pockets. It should be clear to everyone that a copayment assistant card that helps the patient “get the medication for free” doesn’t do that at all; it just means that we’re all paying for it.