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Tuesday Tip of the Week: One Year PBM Service Agreements are not a Fail-Safe

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Clogged Artery

An alarming trend is taking shape in the service agreements between PBMs and plan sponsors. Ten years ago it was commonplace for pharmacy services agreements to have 3-5 year terms. That was at a time when prescription drug costs were an afterthought. Very few buyers of PBM services were concerned enough about the lack of transparency in PBM contracts to worry themselves about the terms. Who can blame them with pharmacy accounting for only 5% to 10% of total health care spend. The cost to large employers amounted to a rounding error.


That was the past and oh how times have changed. Today, it is not uncommon for pharmacy to account for 35% or more of total healthcare spend. In fact, AHIP (America’s Health Insurance Plan’s) in a 2017 data brief disclosed for the first time ever that prescription drug costs consumed the largest proportion of dollars spent on health care premiums, with 22 cents out of every dollar going to medication costs.

How have many brokers and benefits consultants decided to attack a lack of transparency in PBM contracts? They are getting into one year deals. I have to admit if you are going to enter into a bad deal it may as well be a short one. A better approach is to enter into a radically transparent deal for 2-3 years working alongside the PBM to improve performance.

I’m well aware it’s easier said than done. It requires a trained-eye and skilled negotiation to win radical transparency for plan sponsors. The alternative though is one year deals and having to renegotiate the contract for the next year a couple of months post-implementation!

Short terms for leasing an office space or even an automobile works in the buyers favor. But the PBM industry is far more complicated. It doesn’t give you much time to negotiate a more transparent deal and so the poor process just repeats itself. For example, how often do you see terms for PBM services being negotiated after the PBM has been notified it is the winner? The PBM knows it is the winner, go-live is 45 days away yet you expect radical transparency and lower costs Y/Y. Get real.

The reward for short one-year deals is more opacity one year after the next with you scrambling to find a new vendor or getting a better deal. One year deals are not a fail-safe. They are a path to least resistance.

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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