Web-Based Survey to Assess the Perceptions of Managed Care Organization Representatives on Use of Copay Subsidy Coupons for Prescription Drugs

    AUTHORS: Poorva Nemlekar, Marvin Shepherd, Kenneth Lawson, Sharon Rush

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    SUMMARY:

    BACKGROUND: Promotion of prescription drug coupons and vouchers by pharmaceutical manufacturers has increased in recent years. These coupons and vouchers usually subsidize patients’ cost-sharing obligations. In other words, drug companies pay for a patient’s portion of the drug cost, and the remaining cost is paid by the patient and the patient’s health plan. This practice is normally used for brand name drugs but can and has been used for generic drugs. Copayments (also known as copays), and especially high copays for higher cost drugs, are used by managed care organizations (MCOs) to place a higher financial burden on patients and also provide an appreciation of the medication cost. At the same time, tiered copay plans offer incentives, in the form of lower copays, to use available equivalent generic alternatives or lower cost brand name drugs, instead of high cost brand name drugs. With higher tiered copays for brand name drugs being offset by coupons, little is known about MCO representatives’ perceptions about the use of copay subsidy coupons for brand name prescription drugs.

    OBJECTIVE: To assess health plan managers’ and pharmacy benefit managers’ (PBMs) perceptions about the use of prescription drug copay subsidy coupons.

    METHODS: A 28-item online survey instrument was used to collect data from health plan and PBM representatives. A sample of 834 MCO representatives was selected from the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy membership directory. Pharmacists, managers, directors, and executive officers working in pharmacy, formulary, and clinical pharmacy operations were selected for the survey. Respondents from non-MCO settings and government-sponsored health plans were excluded from the survey.

    RESULTS: A total of 122 surveys were returned after 3 emails (i.e., an invitation and 2 reminder emails) of which 105 were usable surveys, giving a response rate of 13.7%. A 5-point, 11-item Likert scale (1 = Strongly Disagree and 5 = Strongly Agree) was used to measure respondents’ perceptions toward prescription drug coupons. Some items referred to coupons used repeatedly over a year to get copay discounts (i.e., long-term use coupons) whereas some items referred to coupons distributed for trial purposes (i.e., short-term use coupons). Of the 105 respondents, 100 (95.2%) agreed that copay subsidy coupons encouraged nonpreferred brand name drugs over preferred brand name drugs. A total of 102 (97.2%) respondents agreed that brand name drug coupons undermined tiered formulary structure. Ninety-two (87.6%) respondents agreed that short-term use coupons increased plan sponsor’s costs while 96 (91.5%) respondents agreed that sponsor cost increased with long-term use coupons. A total of 68 (64.8%) agreed that short-term use coupons should be eliminated whereas 78 (74.3%) respondents agreed that long-term use coupons should be eliminated.

    CONCLUSION: Among MCOs’ many business activities are efforts to contain rising pharmacy costs. The results of this survey indicate that MCO representatives believe that incentive programs such as prescription drug coupons and vouchers lead to an increase in brand name drug utilization, which undermines their formulary controls and, in turn, can be expected to increase overall health care costs.

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