APRIL 01, 2007

Health plans that switch to a "Zero-Dollar Copay" system can reduce their prescription drug costs significantly by encouraging greater use of generic pharmaceuticals, researchers at Express Scripts said. A new study released by the pharmacy benefit management firm concluded that temporarily waiving patient copay requirements for lower-cost generic versions will save money for both the insurer and the patient.

From the patient's perspective, waiving the copay for a 4-to 6-month period would yield out-of-pocket savings averaging about $50 per patient, Express Scripts said. Adding in the savings that would accrue to plan sponsors, the researchers estimate that the nation's total drug bill could drop by as much as $22 billion annually by maximizing generic usage.

Although those savings are predicated on patient response to the zero-dollar-copay incentives, Julayna Meyer, the company's vice president of research and trend management, says patients are likely to jump on board. "Today's health care consumers understand the importance of making a smart choice with regard to prescription drugs and respond well to the incentive that has been made available through this program," she said.