The HHS Copay Accumulator Rule Overturn: What it Means for Patient Financial Assistance

Dive deep into the implications of the HHS Copay Accumulator Rule overturn on patient assistance

October 31, 2023
HHS Copay Accumulator Rule Overturn

Patient advocacy groups recently celebrated a monumental court decision, anticipated to bring much-needed financial relief in terms of medication costs for many. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia overturned an earlier rule that had allowed health insurers to disregard drug manufacturers’ copay assistance when calculating a patient’s out-of-pocket expenses. For patients, especially those with chronic illnesses requiring costly medications, this rule had led to inflated out-of-pocket costs even if they were beneficiaries of copay assistance.

“We are thrilled by this victory, which comes as a relief for individuals who have grappled with exorbitant out-of-pocket expenses due to copay accumulator and maximizer programs,” said Jennifer Noonan, Senior Director, Clinical Programs & Compliance at Accessia Health. “These programs have made it impossible for some individuals to access their life-saving treatments. The remarkable success of these efforts, led by patients and patient advocacy organizations, is a testament to the strength and impact of a united voice.”

Delving into the Heart of the Matter

The legal battle was spearheaded by three patient advocacy groups, who alongside three affected patients, challenged the rule set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Their main contention was the "copay accumulator" policies. These policies allowed health insurers to financially benefit from copay assistance programs without offering the intended relief to the patients in terms of cost.

What does this mean in simpler terms? Imagine you have a coupon from the drug manufacturer for $100. Under the previous rule, even if you used this coupon, your insurer didn't have to recognize it towards your deductible or out-of-pocket expenses. You'd still be on the hook for your full out-of-pocket costs, making the coupon's financial relief void.

The Financial Burden on Patients  

With rising healthcare costs, many patients, especially those dealing with chronic illnesses, rely heavily on copay assistance. For some, the cost-sharing requirements, which can be up to half of the drug’s listed price, make such assistance not just helpful, but essential. Research even indicates that copay assistance in the U.S. reached an enormous sum of $19 billion in just the previous year.

To further complicate matters, more and more insurers and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) have been adopting these copay accumulators. This practice predominantly impacts those needing expensive prescriptions for conditions like cancer, arthritis, or diabetes, among others.

The Bright Side: Patient-Centric Implications

Post-ruling, here’s what patients can expect:

1. Enhanced assistance recognition: The assistance provided by drug manufacturers will now be recognized and counted towards patients’ out-of-pocket costs.

2. Limitations on copay accumulators: They can't be applied across the board. Insurers can only use them for branded drugs that have a generic counterpart, and even then, it's subject to state laws.

3. Expectation of reduced out-of-pocket costs: With the rule overturned, the way copays are calculated will change, likely resulting in patients paying less for their medications.

Even though this was a court ruling, it still needs to be enforced by the Biden Administration.

The Road to Affordable Medication

While the court's decision is a significant step, it’s essential for patients and employers alike to remain vigilant. The dynamics of health insurance and PBMs are intricate, with new strategies constantly evolving. However, this ruling sends a clear message about the importance of genuinely alleviating the financial burdens on patients.

In essence, the court's decision to strike down the HHS copay accumulator rule has bridged a crucial gap in patient financial assistance. This not only underscores the significance of advocacy in healthcare but also paves the way for a more patient-centric approach, ensuring that those in need genuinely benefit from financial aid programs.