New Policy Brief Explains How Co-pay Accumulators, Maximizers Increase Cost of Cancer Care for Patients

October 30, 2019

Health insurers, employers, and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) have shifted a growing share of the costs for specialty prescription medicines to their patients and beneficiaries. Since insurer cost-sharing requirements for prescription medications (such as high coinsurance and deductible amounts) can be uniquely burdensome compared to other types of health care, pharmaceutical manufacturers regularly offer co-pay assistance—which can include co-pay cards or coupons—to help patients afford their prescriptions. Such assistance often reduces or eliminates patients’ share of the payment for their medications.

“Co-pay accumulators” and “co-pay maximizers” have recently emerged as forms of payer-imposed utilization management practices. With a co-pay accumulator or co-pay maximizer program in place, a manufacturer’s co-pay assistance no longer applies toward a patient’s co-pay or out-of-pocket maximum. This means that patients’ out-of-pocket costs will go up, and it will take them longer to reach required deductibles. In ASCO’s view, such tactics negate the intended benefit of patient assistance programs, remove a safety net for patients who need specialty medications but cannot afford them, and could lead to poorer outcomes for people with cancer, as well as higher costs to the cancer care delivery system.

ASCO members have identified co-pay accumulators and co-pay maximizers as an area of growing concern; as such, the society created a new informational policy brief to help explain these programs and provide ASCO’s position on them.

ASCO’s Specific Concerns

Co-pay accumulators and maximizers can lack transparency and are often implemented without a patient’s knowledge or full understanding of their new “benefit.” Such programs can also jeopardize health outcomes if increased out-of-pocket costs mean that patients decide to forego, discontinue, or seek different treatment for non-medical reasons.

ASCO has weighed in on the rising cost of cancer care several times, including position statements on the affordability of cancer drugs and utilization management. ASCO’s position statement on PBMs describes concerns with co-pay accumulator programs, stating that “While they are described as a benefit for patients, these programs in effect prevent patients from reaching their deductibles sooner […] while increasing cost-sharing for patients.” ASCO believes co-pay accumulator programs shift costs away from plan sponsors and employers, and onto patients.

Read the full policy brief.

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