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Consumer group says prescription coupons are ‘illegal bribe’ Posted: March 19th, 2012

By Maryalene LaPonsie

Class action lawsuits have been filed in four cities by health insurance plans claiming prescription drug copayment coupons are driving up medical insurance rates.

The plans are affiliated with the Community Catalyst consumer advocacy organization, which has called the coupons "illegal bribes."

Affordable health insurance and copay coupons

At the center of the lawsuits are coupons distributed by pharmaceutical companies to offset insurance copayment amounts. While the coupons may appear to be a cost-saving measure for consumers, Community Catalyst says they actually are responsible for rising health insurance rates.

"Pharmaceutical corporations are duping consumers with misleading coupons that are more about increasing corporate profits than actually reducing the cost of drugs for consumers," said Wells Wilkinson, director of the Prescription Access Litigation project at Community Catalyst, in a statement announcing the lawsuits. "If not stopped, the use of these deceptive coupons will increase costs for consumers' health plans by billions of dollars, contributing to higher premiums and the increasing loss of coverage and benefits for Americans."

According to Community Catalyst, the use of coupons works to steer patients to more expensive brand-name prescriptions. While the coupon may lower a consumer's immediate cost, health insurance plans may pay significantly more than if a generic drug was used.

The consumer group notes Medicare has banned the use of coupons by its beneficiaries, and Massachusetts has also outlawed their use under an anti-kickback law.

Eight pharmaceutical companies sued

The lawsuits - filed in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Newark, N.J. - come from affiliates of the Community Catalyst coalition known as Prescription Access Litigation. The eight companies sued represent some of the largest names in the pharmaceutical industry:

  • Abbott
  • Amgen
  • AstraZeneca
  • Bristol-Myers Squibb
  • GlaxoSmithKline
  • Merck
  • Novartis
  • Pfizer