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AIDS Healthcare Foundation Taking Tough Stance on PBMs – Pharmacy Benefit Manipulators, Really?

In response to growing consolidation and increasingly monopolistic behavior in the pharmacy and health care industries, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) is launching a new advocacy campaign to take on pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) that are undercutting community pharmacies and driving up drug prices.

The national campaign aims to raise awareness about PBMs’ undue influence on patients’ access to the prescription drugs they may need and to educate the public and press elected officials to call out and prevent PBM abuses. The campaign also hopes to rein in the abusive industry, which broadly functions as middlemen between insurance companies and pharmacies.

AHF’s ‘Stop PBMs’ campaign will include direct and online community mobilization, legislative outreach, online and print advertising, a website, social media posts and more, all urging greater regulation of these corporate health care middlemen that are driving up drug prices. According to AHF, Ryan White contract pharmacies & independently owned pharmacies are being hurt by PBMs in several ways:

(1) PBMs often enforce mandatory mail order of prescription drugs by their patients/clients, and

(2) Force expensive drugs onto patients

(3) Send six months’ worth of medications that may, or will expire

(4) Send refrigerated medications that will go bad sitting on doorsteps

(5) Force pharmacies into accepting reimbursement that doesn’t cover their costs through take it or leave it contracts and abusive practices like clawing back reimbursements months or years after payment.

Tyrone’s Commentary:

If you’ve read any of my previous blog posts you know that I give non-fiduciary PBMs no slack. I just personally believe it is better to do a lot of good and make less money then to make a lot of money and do harm. That being said, most of what AHF is purporting is spot on but one thing bothers me. The finger always gets pointed at the PBM. Plan sponsors rarely take responsibility for their role in how the pharmacy benefit is managed or what it ultimately costs. No one ever says, “You know we really suck at managing our pharmacy benefit no wonder our PBM takes us to the cleaners. Maybe we should get smarter about how to manage the darn thing.” PBMs generally rely on the demands of their clients for how much information they disclose and how close you get to lowest net cost. If you are overpaying, it is likely your own fault. The non-fiduciary PBM is simply leveraging the purchasing power of its unsophisticated clientele. 

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Tyrone Squires, MBA, CPBS

I am the proud founder and managing director of TransparentRx, a fiduciary-model PBM based in Las Vegas, Nevada. We help health plan sponsors reduce pharmacy spend, by as much as 50%, without cutting benefits or shifting costs to employees.

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