Pfizer Inc on Thursday settled charges by New York's attorney general that it misled consumers in its drug copayment coupon program into thinking they would pay far less to fill prescriptions than they ended up having to shell out.

In recent years, copay cards and coupons have become wildly popular with consumers who believe they can save significant sums at the pharmacy counter. But in a twist, Pfizer (PFE) has agreed to pay $700,000 to settle charges of misleading people who had to spend much more than expected.

As part of its program, consumers were told they would “pay no more than” a small amount of money from $15 to $25 for certain medicines but were required to pay more because of limits on total savings that were not prominently disclosed. In one instance, a woman had to pay $144.62, according to New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood.

Health insurance plans

The drugmaker agreed to pay $500,000 in fines and costs, and make more than $200,000 in restitution over the coupons, which can help consumers burdened by health insurance plans that carry high copayments and deductibles.

Pfizer's coupons said consumers would "PAY NO MORE THAN" $15, $20 or $25 for Estring to treat vaginal atrophy, Quillivant XR and Quillichew ER for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and Flector patches for acute pain from minor injuries.

New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood said this was "deceptive" because Pfizer buried limits on the total savings in the small print, and that thousands of consumers ended up paying much more.

Underwood said one woman got a surprise at her pharmacy register when she was required to pay $144.62 for Estring instead of the promised $15 maximum.

The settlement resolves claims from 2014 to 2017, and Underwood said the rate at which New York consumers paid more than the advertised maximums went up over time.

Pfizer changed the text of its coupons this year to say consumers could "pay as little as" specified amounts. The New York-based company acknowledged some of the attorney general's findings but did not admit or deny liability.

Pfizer confirmed the settlement and said reimbursements would go to consumers who used coupons in the last three years. It refunded $129.62 to the woman who paid $144.62 for Estring after the attorney general's office intervened, according to a footnote in the settlement agreement.