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Merck, Glaxo end co-pay assistance for Obamacare plans

(Reuters) - Merck and Co Inc and GlaxoSmithKline Plc are not reimbursing drug co-payments for patients who purchase their health insurance through state and federal exchanges set up under the Obamacare program.

The two drugmakers said their decision, first reported by Bloomberg News, is based on uncertainty about whether insurance programs offered under the Affordable Care Act are governed by federal laws that ban kickbacks to businesses.

To cap rising healthcare costs and give consumers more incentive to reduce spending, insurers in recent years have increased the out-of-pocket costs patients are expected to pay for medications. At the same time, most drugmakers offer patient assistance programs, or coupons, to people who might otherwise not be able to afford medications that have been prescribed by doctors.

Merck, which makes drugs such as Januvia for diabetes, said it plans to revisit its decision once more information is available about implementation of the law governing the federal health program.

Glaxo, maker of asthma medication Advair, said it is "committed to helping patients access our medications."

Amgen Inc, which makes biotech drugs including arthritis medication Enbrel, said it continues to offer cost-sharing assistance to eligible patients.

"Under the new health insurance exchanges, it is not uncommon for patients to face coinsurance of 40 percent or more for their prescriptions," Amgen said in an emailed statement.

(Reporting by Deena Beasley; Editing by Leslie Adler)