Beware the Drug Company That "May Be Able to Help"

| Tue Oct. 2, 2012 12:46 PM EDT

Austin Frakt points us to David Schultz today, who explains the financial incentives behind the coupon wars currently raging in the pharmaceutical industry:

Using cholesterol-lowering drugs as an example, researchers found that the popular statin Lipitor comes with an average co-pay of $30 a month, compared with a $10-a-month co-pay for simvastatin, a generic drug also used to treat high cholesterol. But with a coupon from Pfizer, the drug’s manufacturer, the co-pay for Lipitor goes down to $4 a month, making it less expensive for the consumer than simvastatin.

It’s a great deal for the patient, but not the insurer. According to the JAMA article, the insurer pays $18 a month for simvastatin and $137 a month for Lipitor.

In other words, by picking up the tab for the copay, Pfizer encourages patients to demand Lipitor instead of the generic alternative. The result is higher overall costs for the medical industry as a whole and the sweet jingle of increased patent rents for Pfizer. Needless to say, this pitch is especially effective on the poor and the elderly, who live on low incomes and are likely to push their doctors hard to prescribe the drug that saves them a few dollars.

There's more, and the whole piece is worth a read.