Pharma companies sued for co-pay coupons

    Eight pharmaceutical companies are being sued for offering patients coupons to help defray their co-pays for name-brand drugs.

    In suits filed in Philadelphia and three other cities, the consumer group Community Catalyst alleges that the coupons violate federal commercial bribery laws.

    “It’s not like they lower the total cost of the product, really they actually just make these very expensive drug products more affordable out of pocket in the short run for consumers,” said Wells Wilkinson, who is with Community Catalyst. “It ends up helping consumers choose these expensive products, and they’re going to end up paying more for them in the long run through higher health-care costs.”

    The suit was filed on behalf of four union health plans. Wilkinson said they are seeking class-action status.

    Pfizer, which offers a coupon for the anti-cholesterol drug Lipitor, says it will defend against the allegations vigorously.

    “We believe that co-pay coupons address a serious problem of high cost-sharing for medicines,” said Kate Conners, a spokeswoman for the industry group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.  “They play a valuable role in increasing access to medicines and improving patient adherence to prescribed therapies.”

    The coupons often put co-pays for name brand and generic drugs on par, but still leave insurance companies and employers to pay the tab for the more-expensive name-brand medicines.

    The state of Massachusetts and federal health plans ban the coupons.

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