What is the Major Contributing Factor to the High Costs of Your Prescription Medications?

By N. Lois Adams, Consultant Pharmacist, MBA, HHCS HEALTH GROUP OF COMPANIES, LLC.

Have you ever heard of the “PBMs”?  No?  Well join the huge group of people- seniors, employers, workers-who look at me with the thousand- foot, stare in their eyes when I mention that term. I almost always get the answer. NO, what is that.

They, my friend, are the Prescription Benefits Managers or PBMs.. entities who have taken over a great part of the delivery of health care and have caused the prices to escalate upwards dramatically.

These entities started out as companies which only processed pharmacy prescription claims for insurance companies for you, the employee, the consumer, and any other person who received medicine which had to be billed to an insurance company so that they would receive reimbursement. Now they have morphed into gigantic entities which make billions of dollars at yours, the employers, the government entities, and others expense. They are no longer in the background of medicine. They are running many parts of it. 

They started out by touting that they ( the PBMs) would save all of us money.  They convinced the insurers that they could save money by establishing drug formularies whereby they divided medical problems into categories and developed drug lists which allegedly would contain necessary drugs in each category so that the physician could choose one of those to treat his or her patient. This was a beginning in medical practice whereby the physician could only choose a drug that was on “their” formulary in “their” designated category- no matter if that was the drug of choice to treat the disease or not. And how, in many cases, did they choose the drug in each category? Well, simple. They selected those drugs from manufacturers who gave them the largest rebates. It may not be the best drug for that particular condition but it was the only one “their” formulary would permit.

Then came the “Prior Authorization” (P.A) debacle which is the bain of the physician’s office staff’s existence. As a practicing pharmacist for over 50 years and the owner of pharmacy entities, I have interviewed people for employment at my organizations who have told me that most of those people who are engaged with giving decisions as to whether you need the drug or not, have no idea what the professional is asking them. They are , in many cases, only following a script and do not have any knowledge or training in medicine, the disease, pharmacology, etc. regarding the question as to whether the drug should be approved so that the physician may prescribe it..And the insurer can pay for it. It became my practice, if I was denied, to ask to speak with their Medical Director because “he had to be licensed somewhere.” This was only because the ill-informed gatekeeper would end the inquiry there and not allow any further questioning.

Their “off shore” offices were another step in obstruction. I was told that they would get back with me-perhaps in 2 weeks. My patient needed the medication and that was not sufficient. The next step was to “demand” that I be transferred back to the United States and I allowed  to speak with their medical director.  That usually was successful. The issue here also is that many office personnel or health care companies do not understand the lengths to which one must go to get approval and then what happens in that situation.? You get improper or inferior medical treatment.

It is necessary to enlighten my readers to let them know that the entire system and quality is based upon the number and amount of the rebates given by the pharmaceutical industry to the PBMs. Your doctor can no longer practice medicine in the way that he knows best…he has to engage the PBMs for permission to use the drug of choice. That is where we are today. It is “medicine by rebate”. I sincerely hope that our President will understand who the real culprit of rising medication costs is and take action to rescind the “Safe Harbor” laws so that the PBMs can no longer hide behind laws and regulations that only serve as a “Safe Harbor” for them…and certainly not for you and me.

I will be giving you more insight on the high cost of prescriptions for you and your family in a following column.  Please address any of your questions to me at , “ASK YOUR PHARMACIST”   Newsletter @AmacFoundation.org

Amazon Rx: a cure for supply chain kickbacks or just another poison pill?

Amazon is throwing its hat into the pharmacy business and Bob Campbell, MD of Physicians Against Drug Shortages weighs in on what this could mean:

The Amazon folks do not show their cards. When this began it was called the 1492 Project before it was reported by the press. I have asked them directly are you trying to undercut the GPO/PBM supply chain or do you just want to get in on the kickbacks? They didn’t say then and they don’t say now.

Some insights…they hired a ton of people from the GPO industry presumably to understand the supply chain dynamics.

Their initial focus was the hospital supply chain but they subsequently backed down from that publicly due to the “special relationships” of GPO and Hospital entities. Now their focus is the outpatient pharmaceuticals.

I have maintained that Amazon is the only non governmental entity with the scale and resources to create a parallel competitive marketplace as an alternative to the normal anticompetitive market. Still they will never dominate only survive and carve out a niche. The easier more lucrative approach would be to collect kickbacks. Amazon is different enough they may do the right thing. The Bezos model is your margin is our opportunity. The 43% Kickback rate in outpatient Pharma plus the usual participant margins makes for a fat gross margin to target.

Until Amazon says what they are really up to we can only speculate.

Take Action by Jan 11: Eliminate the #GPO #PBM Middlemen #Safeharbor Creating Drug Shortages and High Prices

“Drug shortages are pretty much a daily disaster right now for most hospitals,” reported Pharmacy Times on December 10. Meanwhile, “The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not just seeing an increase in drug shortages but also a spike in the intensity and duration of shortages,” writes Zachary Brennan, summarizing conclusions from an FDA event last month.

This summer FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD convened a Drug Shortage Task Force “to seek root causes of drug shortages and potential enduring solutions.”

The Task Force has issued a request for public comment as it prepares a report to Congress, and the deadline to submit solutions is January 11. Please help us, your colleagues, and your patients, take advantage of this opportunity to share a few key ideas with the Task Force.

Here’s how you can help! Continue reading

The Ho$pice Hu$tle?

What’s going on with the recent flurry of acquisitions and divestment in the Hospice industry. IP4P asked HIT-industry veteran Barbara Duck (@MedicalQuack) to weigh in:

“Optum certainly kept this very quiet when they sold their hospice facilities to Compassus; however, they are not out of the business, they want to manage it instead, just as they manage surgeons and physicians with Surgical Care Affiliates and OptumCare doctors.  The worst nightmare for those in hospice has come true, the thought of Optum utilization managers running around Compassus Hospice facilities as they intend now to use Optum Hospice Services to manage them.  Hospice care by the algorithms is what we are looking at here with even more undue and not proven analytical scoring of patients taking place at their last days of their lives.  I think the screen from the PowerPoint presentation on the revenue growth here tells the story of what this company’s (Compassus) goals are, revenue and not patient care being the first priority. Continue reading

PBMs Invade Medical Records and Cash-Pay RX Discount Cards

We wrap up 2017 with a guest post from friend of IP4PI Barbara Duck (@MedicalQuack):

This should not really come as a big surprise as what hasn’t the pharmacy benefit managment business touched?  So what is OptimizeRX?  Most have probably not heard of this software but it is a connect to EMRs that will send your prescription right to the pharmacy.  Oh, now you say, well imagethe PBMs do that and they do but what they have been missing is a way to collect data on patients who are not using their PBM prescription card or those who do not have one.  It’s all about getting more data about you to “score” and of course sell those scores to insurers and other interested parties.  Once the pharmacy has the transaction, it does not fall under HIPAA rules as it’s a prescription, linked to an EMR to provide a transaction.  As we all know, your medications in an EHR are protected but again, I’ll repeat this for those who still think HIPAA is covered at the pharmacy, it is not.  It’s been a sore spot for years with privacy. Continue reading

Killer Algorithms at the Drug Store

Guest post by Barbara Duck, @MedicalQuack: http://ducknetweb.blogspot.com/

Cigna & United Healthcare Face Class Action Suits-PBM Over Charging Customers for Prescriptions, OptumRX Pharmacy Benefit Management Software-“Front Running” Consumers With Killer Algorithms at the Drug Store

Here we go again.  If you haven’t figured this out yet, when you buy a Cigna Health insurance policy you get a two for one with 2 insurers.  Cigna provides the insurance benefits and then it’s pharmacy benefit manager, PBM OptumRX (biggest revenue sector subsidiary of United Healthcare) that runs all their formulas via the computer and tells the pharmacist what to charge you.  (Video at the break below-watch it!)

If You Are Insured byCigna, Guess What You Have a New Pharmacy Benefit Manager Named United Healthcare

Continue reading

Consumers at Risk! The Truth About Prescription Discount Cards

One thing we all hate is the high prices we pay in the US today for our prescriptions.  Sure we do get some discounts, but that too has become an effort in algorithmic shopping to click here and click there to get the best price.  It shouldn’t have to be that way,image but it is as that’s how the systems have been built.  There are a ton of discount prescription cards floating around out there and they all vary in one way or another, but the big thing to remember about all of them is that they are a marketing firm that can and will sell your data to make money.  In addition, the discount cards act just like a pharmacy benefit manager with getting all your information when you use them to fill a prescription.  In addition, some of them offer referral fees so they can increase the size of their data base of patient information.  Data means money today and it can be repackaged and resold over and over, and yes, that’s us. Continue reading