Drugmaker rebates short-circuit impact of health plan co-pays

In theory, the co-pay system is supposed to encourage smart shopping without sacrificing patients' health. Patients pay higher portions of the bill--sometimes more than double--for pricier branded drugs. This system is supposed to encourage them (in much the same way that lighted matches under the fingernails is "persuasion") to go for cheaper generics.

Drug companies, of course, aren't thrilled by this arrangement, which undercuts their ability to sell some of their most profitable products. For example, Pfizer cholesterol fighter Lipitor costs about $1,400 per year, which is anywhere from four to eight times more than competing generics.

So, not being stupid by any means, Pfizer and its brethren have begun handing out rebate cards they can use to defray their co-pays. Pfizer, for example, is giving patients $15 toward their co-pay expenses. Drug makers say that they're just helping patients cope with unreasonable growth in co-pays, which have jumped 44 percent on average between 2002 and 2008.

Of course, it's worth noting that the preferred branded drug prices climbed 64 percent during the same period, leading insurers to cry foul. 

To learn more about this trend:
- read this Wall Street Journal health blog item