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Massachusetts Coupon Ban Could Be Reinstated If Certain Entities Prevail

Last July, a long-standing ban on the use of prescription drug coupons in Massachusetts was lifted, allowing state residents to join the rest of the nation in using such discounts to purchase medicines. The closely watched move put an end to what had been a furious battle between the pharmaceutical industry and consumer advocates – for now.

How so? A coupon ban will resume in July 2015, unless the state legislature adopts a measure to preserve the status quo. Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Center for Health Information and Analysis, a state agency that examines health care costs, is supposed to conduct a study to examine the impact on consumer costs, insurance premiums and changes in use of brand-name and generic medicines.

That report is due in December 2014, suggesting the issue will be forgotten as prescribers and their patients go about their businesss. But consumer advocates, such as Health Care for All and Masspirg, which fought to keep the ban intact, are expected to keep close watch on the agency to ensure the report is released on time.

Along with insurers, these consumer groups attempted to convince the Massachusetts legislature to maintain a coupon ban by pointing to a 2011 study by the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, which represents pharmacy benefit managers and had estimated coupons would increase prescription drug costs by $750 million over the next decade.

What the numbers in the forthcoming state report will show remains to be seen. But the long-running battle seems likely to be renewed, since consumer advocates and insurers remain opposed to the use of coupons and argue these discounts amount to unfair marketing gimmicks that allow brand-name drug makers to promote higher-priced medications.

Just the same, unless the agency discovers that costs have risen, renewing the ban may be a tough political fight akin to putting a genie back in its bottle. Massachusetts was the last state in the nation to allow the use of coupons and the likelihood that state lawmakers will repeal the ban seems slim, especially residents can slip across various neighboring state borders to redeem coupons.