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Non-Fiduciary PBMs Arbitrarily Designate Certain Drugs as “Specialty” Medications

Ohio has been working to rein in abusive practices by PBMs since mid-2018, after reporting by The Dispatch revealed that CVS Caremark and Optum Rx, two of the PBMs serving Ohio Medicaid, netted $224 million in a 12-month period by charging Medicaid one price for drugs and reimbursing pharmacies with amounts generally far lower.

Then-Gov. John Kasich’s administration responded by ordering greater transparency in the next round of contracts between PBMs and the managed-care companies handling Medicaid. And the General Assembly eventually barred “spread pricing,” requiring PBMs instead to be paid only a set fee per prescription filled.

But that didn’t end the flow of excess profits to PBMs, either. They still had wide latitude to set the terms of prescription coverage, and because most have parent companies that also own pharmacy chains, a new gambit emerged: arbitrarily designate certain drugs as “specialty” medications, jack up the price substantially and decree that they can be filled only at the parent-company pharmacy.

Tyrone’s Commentary:

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How can a PBM arbitrarily designate certain drugs as specialty medications you ask? The same way a non-fiduciary PBM might designate a generic drug as brand. It’s all about the contract definitions. In every scenario where a plan sponsor has shared their success with reducing pharmacy costs, they’ve mentioned the contract. The mention is usually very subtle unless of course you have a trained-eye then it sticks out like a sore thumb. Leave opaque definitions in your contract and you are bound to get screwed. I’ve supplied here a  transparent definition of ‘Specialty Drug’ and one we use in our Certified Pharmacy Benefits Specialist curriculum.

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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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