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Sensodyne coupon

Whether it was the lawyers, or the angry customers, someone has finally talked some sense into the maker of Sensodyne, Aquafresh, Tums and other consumer health care products. GlaxoSmithKline has backed down, and is removing controversial coupon language that barred senior citizens, members of the military, veterans and the disabled from using its coupons.

A few months ago, this was the wording that began appearing in the fine print of several GSK coupons:

“You are NOT eligible to use this coupon if you are a government beneficiary. You are a government beneficiary if you are enrolled in any federal healthcare program, including Medicaid, Medicare (Part D or otherwise), or any similar federal or state programs, including any state pharmaceutical assistance program. Further, you CANNOT use this coupon if you are Medicare eligible. For coupon eligibility purposes, all those 65 or older will be considered Medicare eligible.”

GSK called the new restrictions necessary, but many consumers called it discriminatory. And some legal experts called it nonsense.

So now, GSK has done an about-face. “GSK Consumer Healthcare has re-evaluated our current coupon language, and we will be removing any language that states that Medicare and Medicaid recipients cannot receive a discount for OTC products,” spokesperson Joanmarie Goddard said in a statement.

Consider it a win for couponers and consumers who let their voices be heard – loudly. On various GSK brands’ Facebook pages, customers – and former customers – left a slew of angry comments, most of which have since been deleted. GSK weakly tried to defend the new coupon wording by pointing the finger at Washington, claiming that the revised coupon language was “due to a determination by the U.S. government that pharmaceutical manufacturers (including GSK) may not offer coupons to individuals enrolled in government funded programs.”

But they were only half right.

The federal government does indeed prevent individuals enrolled in government-funded health care programs from double-dipping on discounts when they buy prescription drugs. They can use their government discount, or a retail coupon, but not both. Otherwise, the customer will enjoy a reduced price provided by the coupon, but the government will be stuck paying the full price.

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That’s why, in accordance with federal law, GSK includes the restrictive language on all coupons for prescription drugs that it manufactures. And somehow, someone in the company decided it would be a good idea to start using the same language on all of its coupons. “As part of a larger pharmaceutical company, efforts are made to have coordinated policies where appropriate,” Goddard said.

But Medicare, Medicaid and other federal health programs don’t prevent anyone from using a coupon to get a dollar off their toothpaste. “What they added is not the law,” health care legal expert Clinton Mikel told Coupons in the News back in May. Mikel is an attorney with The Health Law Partners, a nationally recognized law firm focusing on health care legal issues. Not only did he see the new wording as an overly cautious, blanket approach that “they simply added knowing it would not be adhered to,” but the catch-all phrase “all those 65 or older will be considered Medicare eligible” could have put the company at risk of a potential age-discrimination lawsuit.

Mikel also predicted, correctly, that the new wording wouldn’t last long. “Walgreens isn’t going to police customers because they look old,” he said. “I would predict they will remove this wording soon.”

And, lo and behold, upon further reflection on the coupon language, “it was determined it was not applicable for OTC products such as toothpaste,” Goddard explained.

Took them long enough.

As of this past weekend, GSK coupons that appeared in the Sunday newspaper inserts still contained the restrictive language. Since the insert coupons are printed in advance, it may take a while longer before the revised wording appears. But the wording has already quietly changed back, on GSK personal care product coupons that are available to print online.

Potentially adding to the confusion in the interim, though, GSK says the policy change is effective immediately – even if the coupons don’t reflect that yet. “Consumers that have coupons with this language and are Medicare and Medicaid recipients can use the coupons and receive a discount,” Goddard confirmed.

Try explaining that to a by-the-book cashier who actually reads the coupon, asks for your I.D., and then refuses to let you use it.

But some shoppers won’t even bother trying. Many who were irked by the new language swore off GSK products altogether.

GSK can only hope that the boycotters are forgiving, or that their memory is short-lived. And that whoever was responsible for the revised coupon language and the PR debacle it caused, is officially out of the running for “employee of the month”.

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