The Employer's Guide Blog for Overseeing PBMs

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Tuesday Tip of the Week: Avoid “Bargain Basement” PBM Administration fees

Interest in spreads was heightened in June 2019 with a story in USA Todays’ network and allegations by Ohio Department of Medicaid, in part, over the spread taken by two well-known PBMs. Although these cash flows can accrue to some PBMs, there are others that do business on a full-disclosure arrangement with the plan sponsor.

These full-disclosure models avoid the “bargain basement” administration fees of 10 cents to 1 dollar per claim, for example, that give non-fiduciary PBMs the green light to generate cash flows that are not readily apparent to the sponsor. Some of these PBMs are so brazen (or plan sponsors indifferent) that they are even offering $0 dispensing fees on top of $0 admin fees! The plan sponsor should be prepared for a greater upfront PBM administration fee, north of $4 per claim, in exchange for total disclosure of cash flows.

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The full-disclosure model PBM may not actively promote a specialty pharmacy or mail-order facility, because with no manipulation of AWP and a fair MAC for both the pharmacist and sponsor, the PBM has no economic advantage. The perception of many plan sponsors is that “AWP minus discount” and the “minimum rebate guarantee” are the two key components in evaluating the PBM proposal.

From my experience, the plan sponsor should take the time to investigate the cash flows to the PBM. It is a variable rarely considered in the evaluation of PBM proposals yet has a profound impact on net costs. The time invested in PBM selection can return significant cost savings on future pharmacy benefit costs.

Given the competition in the PBM industry and the potential for undisclosed cash flows, I believe that plan sponsors can use the information in this week’s tip to their advantage in selecting and monitoring their PBM’s performance. 

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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