On March 11, 2019, Oregon Attorney General Ellen F. Rosenblum announced a nearly-$1 million settlement ($975,000.00) with Pfizer for distributing misleading marketing materials and coupons to Oregon patients and consumers.
Pfizer’s Misleading Actions
The settlement follows a four-month investigation during which time the Oregon Department of Justice investigated alleged misleading marketing materials and coupons that said on the face that consumers who presented the coupons would “pay no more than” a certain amount, typically $15, $20, or $25. The coupons were valid on only a few of Pfizer’s drugs: Flector Patch, Estring, Nicotrol Inhaler, and Quillivant/Quillichew.
During the investigation, it was found that consumers wound up paying significantly more than the amount stated on the coupon. At least 371 Oregon consumers paid more than $40,000 in total over the amount promised by the coupon the first time a prescription was filled.
Some proceeds from the settlement will be returned to consumers who used the misleading coupons, and the AG’s office expects the average payment to be roughly $108.
A total of $500,000 will go to Project Access NOW (PANOW), a community health organization that serves low-income uninsured and underinsured Oregon residents. The organization works with clinics, health systems, and community-based organizations to provide access to care and health services for Oregonians. PANOW also uses the Providence Pharmacy Benefit Management system to provide low or no cost medications to the uninsured and provides co-pay assistance.
An additional $120,000 will go to Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center, which provides health care to Oregon residents, especially migrant and seasonal farmworkers. Virginia Garcia offers on-site pharmacies at primary care clinics in several locations throughout the state.
“When it comes to the price of medications, we will not tolerate pharmaceutical companies taking advantage of Oregonians. Pfizer enticed consumers with these coupons for one reason only —to sell its brand-name drugs instead of a cheaper generic. These coupons were simply not a good deal for consumers, who were misled by Pfizer into thinking they were,” said Attorney General Rosenblum. “I am pleased that two wonderful Oregon non-profits who help some of our most vulnerable afford health care will benefit from the settlement.”
Pfizer Has Been Here Before
Over the last fifteen years, Oregon has recouped more than $10 million in civil settlements from Pfizer for a variety of infractions, including misrepresenting the efficacy of a drug, off-label promotion, marketing claims, and misleading marketing.
While this settlement may seem small and un-newsworthy, it underscores the need for manufacturers to ensure that their coupons are being honored correctly and the prices paid by patients and consumers equal the amount stated on the coupon.