Health insurers are praising a provision in a recently proposed regulation that gives commercial plans greater leeway to run so-called copay accumulator programs, which prevent drug manufacturer coupons from counting toward patients’ annual deductibles or out-of-pocket cost limits. But the pharmaceutical industry slammed the proposal as “misguided” and liable to prevent patients from getting vital medications.

“I do think these programs are here to stay, and I do think they will continue to grow in terms of the absolute numbers as we head into ’22 and beyond,” Jayson Slotnik, a partner at Health Policy Strategies, LLC., tells AIS Health. From insurers’ point of view, copay accumulator programs help combat the perverse incentives that drug manufacturer coupons create: steering patients to pricey brand-name drugs by obscuring their true cost.

In its 2021 proposed Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters, CMS clarifies that all non-grandfathered individual and group market health plans “have the flexibility to determine whether to include or exclude coupon amounts from the annual limitation on cost sharing, regardless of whether a generic equivalent is available.”

To America’s Health Insurance Plans, it’s important to allow the use of copay accumulator programs even for drugs that don’t have a generic version in order to spur competition between branded drugs that can treat the same condition. “Drug manufacturers recognize this and spend billions of dollars to dilute the impact of competition by providing coupons for brand drugs that do not have a generic equivalent,” the trade group wrote in its comment letter about the proposed rule.

But the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) sees it very differently.

“It would compromise patients’ ability to adhere to prescribed medicines at a moment when insurance coverage for medicines continues to erode; it would put patient health and financial security in danger; it would run directly counter to the Administration’s stated policy of lowering patient out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs; and it could undermine the appeal and availability of high-deductible health plans,” PhRMA wrote.