Copay coupons aren’t the deal they appear to be

In regards to Elisabeth Rosenthal’s April 25 commentary, “Is my drug copay coupon a form of charity – or a bribe?” we cannot overlook the impact that these coupons have on prescribers. As was noted, copay coupons are meant to increase profits, not cut consumers a deal.

As someone with a background in public health and a future as a physician, I have studied how pharmaceutical companies influence community and individual health. These seemingly good-natured bribes extend to both the physician and the consumer. Sure, the consumer is more likely to continue using a medication if they get a perceived discount on it. But, it also follows that the prescriber is also more likely to prescribe certain drugs to others when they can recall prior coupon “savings.”

During my time as a surgical technician and scribe, I worked alongside physicians that strived to improve patients’ health without bankrupting them. A 2020 study found that prices for newer drugs rose 300% over the inflation rate. Copay coupons may seem like a deal, but when you get 20% off a medication that is 300% over inflation, that is more akin to stealing than a so-called discount.

Copay coupons allow providers to prescribe the brand-name medication they’re familiar with instead of unfamiliar alternatives. Just like that, coupon availability can be a driving force for some prescribers’ decision to elect for more traditionally expensive medication options. Pharmaceutical companies will continue to abuse some prescribers’ good intentions unless they are stopped. Maine legislators should support policies that cap prescription drug prices at appropriate inflation rates, removing the fictitious charity that accompanies this largely unfair market.


Trevor Lyford

George Washington Milken Institute School of Public Health

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