June 16th, 2011
Massachusetts May Lift Ban On Drug Coupons
Several patient groups are joining the pharmaceutical industry in an effort to overturn a Massachusetts ban on coupons - the only such state ban in the country. But one consumer advocacy group charges the move amounts to a marketing ploy and that coupons would be unnecessary if drugmakers were to lower their prices, The Boston Herald reports.
The debate comes not long after the Massachusetts House voted unanimously to lift the ban, but a companion bill in the state Senate would have required drugmakers to offer coupon discounts indefinitely. Consequently, the effort stalled, but has now been revived and a resolution is expected over the next few weeks.
“Medicine is expensive,” Stephen Evangelista, who heads the New England Region Arthritis Foundation, tells the paper. He claims his members - including those with health insurance - can spend up to $500 a month for injections of the Enbrel arthritis treatment sold by Amgen, which is reportedly willing to offer up to $4,000 in coupon discounts annually.
But one consumer advocacy group charges coupons are merely a marketing ploy designed to promote expensive medicines instead of lower-cost alternatives. “They want to give out a few samples for free, so you get hooked,” Amy Whitcomb Slemmer of Health Care For All. “It’s one of the most effective tools for drug marketing, and not necessarily in consumers’ best long-term interest.”
The group believes drugmakers should lower the prices if they want to make meds more affordable, instead of offering periodic discounts by way of coupons. In the end, she charges that coupons actually raise health care costs, because patients will choose to continue seeking higher-priced brand-name drugs even after coupons are no longer available.