The Employer's Guide Blog for Overseeing PBMs

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Tip of the Week: How PBMs Help Rein in Drug Spending

Figure 1

Pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) are hired by employers or organizations to act as the middleman between drug manufacturers and pharmacies. They essentially seek to bring together the entire pharmacy supply chain, while helping to improve patient outcomes through clinical and cost-saving programs. The United States spent an estimated sum of approximately $500 billion on medications in 2019. This number combines all insurance types as well as cash-paying patients. This is a $200 billion increase over the past 10 years. 

There is no telling what this number would be without PBMs. PBMs seek to control that spending while providing the most effective care to their members. These negotiation skills have the potential to provide significant value. There is nothing more a CEO from a drugmaker would love than to remove PBMs from the negotiating table. Point-of-sale rebates, for example, might reduce member cost share but any lost revenue, by non-fiduciary PBMs or health plans, will be shifted elsewhere. A CBO (Congressional Budget Office) report happens to agree. Reducing PBM purchasing power (negotiating rebates) would allow pharmaceutical companies to offer discounts 15% smaller than their current rebates. There are a few additional ways in which PBMs can help their clients (see figure 1):
1) Administer and process claims
2) Provide pharmacy networks
3) Provide mail order services
4) Negotiate with manufacturers
5) Optimize plan performance of clients
6) Ensure safe, cost-effective, appropriate medication utilization

Tyrone’s Commentary:

The primary goal of a PBM is to contain its clients’ cost. We do that by negotiating with drugmakers and pharmacies for better pricing, managing utilization and product mix. There is a direct correlation between transparency and value transfer in pharmacy benefits. To the extent a PBM’s cost-containment practices benefit commercial and public sector employers, unions, health plans and health systems, matters a great deal. When a PBM is successful in cutting costs and doesn’t transfer those savings to the client, it increases revenue for the PBM but in turn increases costs to employers and employees, for example.

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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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