Prescription drug sales in the U.S. totaled well over $300 billion in 2013. Medications are expensive, and especially new drugs often come with a very high price tag. But these days, consumers can cut down drug prices with the help of coupons, just like the ones you use for detergent or your favorite cookies.. Pharma coupons are available online, in magazines, and, at doctor's offices.
Coupons disrupt one of the fundamental systems that control healthcare costs. "For example, there may be two cholesterol drugs out there that are essentially equivalent in how well they work," said David Grande, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. An insurance company might be able to negotiate a price for one of those medications for $25 a month, where the price for the other is $100 a month, so the insurance company tries to steer patients toward the cheaper drug. They do so by assigning higher copays for the more expensive drug. "Now, the drug company gives you a coupon that makes that co-pay go away or very low. Now a whole bunch of people want the more expensive medication," said Grande. "From a patient perspective, it seems like a great deal. From insurance company perspective, they are now spending a lot more money than they planned." And that, says Grande, ultimately increases our health insurance premiums.
He adds that there's also a bit of "bait and switch" that affects consumers wallets' directly, because coupons often only impact the first couple of drug purchases. "People want to stay on on meds they are comfortable with for years but all of a sudden their monthly co-pays go up a lot," said Grande.