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Beyond Price Wars: Using Copay Programs to Drive Adoption

The use of co-pay or coupon cards are typically considered for prescription drugs farther along in their life cycle, when there are either new entrants in the category or when generics of less-expensive biosimilar products become available. A logical thought in the latter case is “all else being equal, a patient and prescriber will prefer the branded product.” In many cases, this logic works and the use of coupon cards can allow brands to retain their current customers for a longer period. Even when accounting for the decrease in revenue associated with a coupon card, this concept can bring more return on investment than trying to acquire new customers.

We also know from research that formulary and drug cost information does impact a prescriber’s likelihood to write a product. Given this trend, along with studies that show that the adoption curve for writing a product post-launch can flatten out after as little as six months, it may be wise for marketers to begin offering coupon cards immediately upon launch, especially in cases in which the product is not first to market and/or is a secondary line of treatment.

One goal for marketers is to get their brands into the small set of potential treatments that a physician might consider when addressing a specific condition, known as a “therapeutic armamentarium.” An effective way to do that is by providing samples — there’s ample research that supports the positive correlation between offering samples and physician prescribing behavior. However, if coverage is limited and/or out-of-pocket cost is high, then providing a co-pay program at launch should also prove effective. When physicians know that their patients may not be adherent for cost reasons, this will impact their willingness to adopt and try a new product.

To further break down this barrier to trial, offering a co-pay or coupon earlier should help to increase the willingness to try a new product, therefore increasing the likelihood that the physician will become a loyal adopter. Obviously where a product sits within the category or class, e.g., first-to-market or later entrant, and efficacy benefits have a large impact on adopters. Given the cost/benefit potential of a program like this, I would recommend investing in and testing a pilot program to prove out the effectiveness of this concept.

Essentially, co-pay cards are not just about pricing wars with competitors. They can be useful tools in driving adoption post-launch, encouraging physicians to try the product before it has widespread coverage.