Independent pharmacists start ads asking Congress for relief from pharmacy benefit managers, ask Supreme Court to hear a case

Kentucky Health News

Independent community pharmacists have begun an advertising campaign to get Congress to rein in pharmacy benefit managers, the middlemen between drug and health-insurance companies. They are also challenging a court ruling that could negate the PBM reforms made by Kentucky and other states.

The ad campaign was launched Thursday, June 13, by the National Community Pharmacists Association. Its CEO, B. Douglas Hoey, said “Eighty percent of all prescriptions in the U.S. are controlled by just three pharmacy benefit managers, and they are all owned by or affiliated with the largest insurance companies in the country.

These are Fortune 15 corporations that behave like monopolies, and they are hurting patients with higher prescription costs and killing off small businesses at the average rate of one every day. There is broad bipartisan support in Congress for reform, and we are determined to get it passed before the end of the year.”

On Friday, June 14, NCPA joined other pharmacy groups in asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a recent decision from the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals against a 2019 Oklahoma law than bans PBMs from requiring patients to pick up their prescriptions from PBM-affiliated pharmacies. The groups say the ruling “imperils laws enacted in almost every other state following the 2020 Supreme Court ruling” that approved state regulation of PBMs, reports Gabrielle Wanneh of Inside Health Policy.

In 2023, the Kentucky General Assembly passed Senate Bill 188, aimed at keeping the state’s independent pharmacies from closing. It sets dispensing fees, bans PBMs from forcing patients to get their drugs through mail order, and keeps them from steering patients to pharmacies that they own. The PBMs argued that the law will cause insurance premiums to increase and its mandates in the bill won’t allow businesses to gain from savings that PBMs offer.

Independent pharmacies say they are losing money because of low fees paid by PBMs. The bill sets a minimum dispensing fee of $10.64 per prescription for the state’s independent pharmacies until a study of dispensing costs is completed by the state Department of Insurance. This “gap-fill payment floor” will not be available to chain pharmacies. The results of the study will eventually dictate what the dispensing fee should be going forward. The study is to be repeated every two years, with fee adjustments made accordingly.

The law, sponsored by Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, also prohibits a PBM from reimbursing a pharmacy that it owns at a higher rate than a community pharmacy, or from keeping a community pharmacy from filling a 90-day prescription for a maintenance drug. And a PBM will not be able to penalize a community pharmacy from sharing information with a patient on the cheapest option to pay for their medications.

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