House advances bill lifting sunset on drug coupon law

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STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, DEC. 18, 2014….Coupons and rebates for brand-name prescriptions offered by drug makers would remain legal in Massachusetts beyond 2017 under a bill House lawmakers are moving toward passage.

Prior to 2012, Massachusetts was the only state that did not allow consumers to use coupons and rebates for prescriptions.

Two years ago, lawmakers reached a compromise to allow drug coupons in part by inserting a five-year sunset clause. House lawmakers on Thursday gave initial approval to a bill (S 2286) that eliminates the expiration for using coupons. A House Ways and Means amendment to the bill, which deals with pharmacy audits, dropped the sunset clause for coupons.

The bill has yet to emerge in the Senate with three weeks remaining before the 2013-2014 session ends.

Manufacturers have offered temporary discounts for their drugs in other states for years, but Massachusetts residents could not take advantage of the savings.

Opponents of drug coupons argue their use drives up health care costs by encouraging people to request pricey brand-name medications. Others who back the discounts say they help people afford expensive prescriptions.

A coalition of organizations, which included MASSPIRG, Blue Cross Blue Shield and the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, unsuccessfully tried to prevent drug coupons in Massachusetts.

Deidre Cummings, legislative director for MASSPIRG, said Thursday pharmaceutical companies use coupons to lure consumers to newer, more expensive drugs. Consumers then put pressure on their doctors to prescribe the drugs.

“Those coupons drive consumer demand. Insurance companies have a hard time dealing with it; physicians have a hard time dealing with it,” Cummings said.

Cummings opposes removing the sunset clause and said she expects a report to be issued by the end of 2014 on the impact of coupons on drug prices.

“Now the lifting of that sunset, particularly at time when this state has been so focused on trying to reign in the cost of health . . . removing that sunset will increase the cost of health care by increasing the cost of prescription drugs,” she said.

Eric Linzer, senior vice president at the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, said health insurers are seeing significant increases in the amounts pharmaceuticals charge for brand-name and generic drugs.

“There needs to be greater scrutiny of factors driving those price increases,” Linzer said.

If drug prices continue to rise, it will be more difficult for employers and consumers to afford health care, and make cost benchmarks set as part of a 2012 health care cost control law difficult to achieve, Linzer said.

Copyright 2014 State House News Service

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