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To Give or Not to Give: The Challenge of Pharmaceutical Coupons

Mihail Zilbermint, Louise Schiavone
Journal of Clinical Ethics, 29 (4): 319-322
Diabetes is epidemic and many people cannot afford insulin, a lifesaving medication, as its price has increased by almost 160 percent in the past five years.1 To help subsidize the cost of insulin, one of the staff members at my hospital would like to give patients copayment coupons provided to her by pharmaceutical companies. I advised my colleague to stop distributing these branded coupons, as they promote particular pharmaceutical companies. This practice is not consistent with the policy on interaction with industry established by the Johns Hopkins Health System. Yet at the same time, I want my patients to be able to afford their insulin so they can treat their diabetes. I truly believe in utilitarianism. Would temporarily subsidizing patients' insulin make me and my staff better healthcare providers? Would this minimize my patients' financial burden? Would giving away medications coupons help pharmaceutical companies influence me as a prescriber? This challenge created a personal internal debate and profound moral distress.


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