Pharmacy Costs

Coupons for Prescription Drugs: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Drug Coupons Explained

We encourage and help anyone we can to obtain a coupon for their prescriptions.. We know, however, that there are emerging issues with them.

Some background 

Drug manufacturers have some amazing but expensive medications. They have created coupon programs that help the consumer pay for the prescriptions up until that consumer reaches their insurance company deductible (most coupon programs require the consumer has insurance).

For the consumer, that appears to be fine.  That is the good.

Once the member meets their deductible (even though they may not have actually paid that full amount, due to the coupon), the insurance company is hit with the cost.  For the remainder of the year the carrier is paying the full cost on refills for that prescription.  That is the bad (at least for the insurance company).

The battle between the manufacturer and insurance company is now heating up. The manufacturer wants to let the consumer off the hook for the cost (so they will use their product) but wants to get to the carrier reimbursement portion. Some insurance carriers have concluded that since the consumer did not actually pay for the prescription, deductible credit should only be given for what the consumer actually paid. We assume more carriers will follow suit.

We are beginning to see the consumer caught in the middle. The manufacturers do not want to keep filling the prescriptions for free.  If they see that the member was not given deductible credit from the insurance carrier, the member is then billed for the full cost.  The consumer assumes the coupon will work and does not find out it was rejected until after the prescription has been filled. The consumer then gets billed.  And, that is the ugly.

We at BBG still see the coupon option to be worth researching and using.  However, we are urging our clients’ employees and dependents to research this and reach out to us for help. We know a lot about these options and are learning how get ahead of being blindsided.

Pharmacy Coupons and Insurance Companies Making Adjustments

This is an example of one Ohio company adjusting how they administer coupons people use at the pharmacyThe program helps make sure members’ out-of-pocket cost for prescription drugs are properly applied to deductibles and maximum out-of-pocket amounts.

The benefit of the coupon is easy to grasp.  Someone on an expensive brand medication can obtain it at low or no cost.

The problem can be that the carrier processes it as a paid claim and the member never pays what the plan requires.  There are reasons both employers and carriers want real out of pocket to be met by the member.

The carriers now are adjusting and working on ensuring that the member is not given credit or given a reimbursement for something they never paid for personally.  Members can use the coupons, but the carrier will credit only what the member actually paid.

This seems like a reasonable solution.  It will likely become a normal way coupons are processed.

Using An Old Opening Joke Line To Illustrate Costs In Healthcare

We have all heard jokes that begin with
“Three guys walk into a bar….”

I thought it might make sense to use that model to explain why “referenced-based pricing” and general consumer awareness in healthcare are important to consider. Here goes:

Three guys walk into a hospital to get the same procedure….

– THE FIRST GUY is covered by MEDICAID and the billed amount to the government is $60.

– THE SECOND GUY is covered by MEDICARE and the billed amount is $100.

– THE THIRD GUY is covered by PRIVATE INSURANCE and the billed amount is $250.

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There are long and complicated reasons why this exists, but it does.  One of the things that many people are talking about but still few are doing is called “reference-based pricing” (RBP).  This is where an employer will agree to only pay a percentage above MEDICARE.  It is still edgy and can create problems for members under this type of program, but it makes sense.  Basically, the employer is saying “I understand that providers charge us more but we will only agree to a certain percentage above what you bill to Medicare.”   The reason it is edgy is that it could pit the provider against the member or the provider may even turn the member away.  Nonetheless, RBP is out there and will likely get more attention.

Although structural programs like referenced-based pricing may be too early to embrace, it is wise to know that better pricing is out there and consumers can take advantage by asking questions and comparing prices.

I know that “three guys walk into a bar” has a much better ring to it than “three guys walk into a hospital”, but it is important to know that you may be able to find a better deal on your costs.

This is something BBG is studying and we are gathering pricing differences for our clients.

CDHC-Comparison-Shopping

 

THE LAW OF DISPROPORTIONATE COSTS: SMALL NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES ACCOUNT FOR LION’S SHARE OF GROUP HEALTH PLAN MEDICAL COSTS

There’s plenty of cost related analytics available to support the disproportionate cost premise that medical expenses are highly concentrated among a very small proportion of enrolled employees.  These highlights, for example, from a Agency for Healthcare Research and Policy (AHRQ) are pretty telling:

  • 1 % of the population accounts for 21.4 % of total health care expenditures nationally
  • 5 % of the population account for 49.9 % of total expenditures
  • 10 % of accounts for 65.6 % of all medical costs
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