Pfizer coughs up $700K to settle New York probe over ‘pay no more than’ copay coupons

Pfizer sign
Pfizer pays $700,000 to settle charges that its copay coupons for three drugs misled consumers. (Tracy Staton)

Some New Yorkers were surprised when Pfizer’s copay coupons didn’t save them the money they were supposed to. Now, it’s Pfizer’s turn to pay up.

In a settlement with New York's attorney general, the drugmaker agreed to shell out $700,000 to wrap up allegations that it misled consumers who paid much more for Pfizer drugs than its copay coupons suggested.  

Consumers were told they would “pay no more than” $15 or $20 out of pocket, for example, for certain Pfizer drugs, but later discovered they'd have to pay much more, because limits on their total savings were not displayed prominently enough, according to New York AG Barbara Underwood.

The allegations targeted Pfizer’s coupon programs over the last three years for three drugs: vaginal ring Estring, and Quillivant XR and Quillichew ER for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). One consumer, according to Underwood, had to pay $144.62 for Estring even with a copay coupon that had promised a $15 maximum.

“Pfizer misled customers by promising a low copay for prescription drugs—only to leave them with major bills at the cash register. Now, they must take responsibility and provide restitution to the New Yorkers they deceived,” said Underwood in a statement.

Of the total financial settlement, $500,000 is in penalties, fees and costs, while more than $200,000 will go to reimburse consumers who used the coupons, a Pfizer spokesperson confirmed.

In early 2018, Pfizer changed the text on those copay coupons to “pay as little as” instead of "pay no more than." But the company “did not admit any liability as part of this agreement,” the spokesperson said in a statement to FiercePharma.

RELATED: California deals pharma a double whammy with signing of copay coupon bill

Pharma’s copay coupons have sparked controversy in recent years as skeptics question their role in helping patients. A year ago, California enacted a law limiting copay coupons and other discounting strategies for branded prescription drugs when a cheaper generic is available, with only rare exceptions.

California Assembly member Jim Wood, who drafted the bill, said the coupons appear to help consumers by reducing their out-of-pocket costs, but by enticing patients to expensive branded drugs, they drive up overall healthcare costs. In opposition, industry group PhRMA at the time argued that such a policy would keep patients who need a branded drug from getting it.