Express Scripts' 'Parachute' to cap prescription costs for those hit by coronavirus turmoil

Cigna’s (CI) Express Scripts is offering a new prescription drug program that limits costs to consumers, acting as a safety net for millions of newly uninsured individuals.

With at least 30 million people thrown out of work by the global COVID-19 crisis, the pharmacy benefit manager on Thursday unveiled Parachute Rx. For the unemployed or uninsured, the program will cap costs at $25 for a 30-day supply of generics, and at $75 for a 30-day supply of some brand name medications.

The company is focusing on commonly used treatments for high-volume or chronic conditions, including asthma, diabetes, heart disease, migraine, non-opioids and reproductive health. Others may be added over time, and the company anticipates Parachute will run thru the end of 2020.

In order to offer discounted prescriptions, Express Scripts is tapping into its relationships with big pharmaceutical firms like AstraZeneca (AZN), Bayer (BAYRY), Eli Lilly (LLY), Merck (MRK), Pfizer (PFE) and Sanofi (SNY). The company is doing so through its free discount program arm, Inside Rx.

The program is available for anyone without insurance, and doesn’t have to be a former Cigna member. But anyone on government plans like Medicare and Medicaid are not eligible, according to the statement.

FILE- In this July 10, 2018, file photo bottles of medicine ride on a belt at the Express Scripts mail-in pharmacy warehouse in Florence, N.J. As Democrats in Congress consider whether to back a revamped regional trade pact being pushed by President Donald Trump, they’re zeroing in on a new point of conflict: Drug prices. They contend that the new pact would force Americans to pay more for prescription drugs, and their argument has dimmed the outlook for one of Trump’s signature causes. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

"We have seen this pandemic bring out the best of humanity, and the quick collaboration among our industry partners to make Parachute Rx a reality is what our country needs right now," said Tim Wentworth, president at Express Scripts and Cigna services, in a prepared statement.

“The Parachute Rx program is an extraordinary partnership for these extraordinary times. Together, we can offer a softer landing for people whose lives have been upended by this pandemic so they can come out of this crisis healthy and strong in the country to have continued access to medicine.”

The program may help alleviate a recurring issue in health care. Access to medications results in greater compliance for those who suffer from chronic disease, which helps prevent costlier health care further down the line.

Previous studies have shown that between $100 and $300 billion of avoidable health care costs have been attributed to patients who don’t regularly take prescribed medication. In the U.S., those costs represent 3% to 10% of total annual health care spending.

Meanwhile, Congress is considering subsidies for COBRA coverage, the limited extension of health coverage when an individual loses their job, as part of the next stimulus package. Insurers are closely watching movement on that particular policy.