The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), declaring that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) isn't a federal health care program like Medicare or Medicaid, has ruled that pharmaceutical companies are free to offer drug copay cards to Obamacare policyholders. Issuing such cards to Medicare and Medicaid participants is still illegal, however.

Copay cards are offered by drug makers to help individuals cover the cost of medicines they are taking. Biogen Idec, for instance, has been offering to pay for its new multiple sclerosis drug Tecfidera for a whole year if patients have trouble winning insurance reimbursement. Likewise, Pfizer has rolled out a copay discount for Lipitor, its longstanding cholesterol drug, in a big to sell the medicine over its generic counterparts.

In a letter of clarification to Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius limited the use of copay cards to insurance plans covered by Title I of the ACA.