The managed care division of UnitedHealth Group Inc. is trying to reduce out-of-pocket expenses for people with asthma who shift to medication delivery systems that are safer for the environment.

UnitedHealth, Minnetonka, Minn., has lowered the copayment for brand-name Xopenex HFA asthma medicine inhalers that are free of chlorofluorocarbon to the cheapest “tier,” or to $5 to $10 for members of most standard UnitedHealth prescription plans, the company says.

There is now a shortage of traditional CFC-containing inhalers, because the United States is trying to protect the Earth’s ozone layer by phasing out the CFCs in inhalers by Dec. 31, 2008, UnitedHealth says.

“The new CFC-free brand-name inhalers are just as effective but have a higher cost,” UnitedHealth says. “Physicians are recommending that asthma patients begin transitioning to the new CFC-free inhalers.”