PBMs: Something old and something new

You may not know this (I admit I didn’t) but there’s a trade association for PBMs called the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association which yesterday was one of the first to come out and laud the Administration’s call for improving the Nation’s Health Care Information Infrastructure. That reminded me of something old and something much more recent about PBMs. I’ve written pretty widely about PBMs in THCB, with the much shorter version being that despite the fact that they have totally failed in their stated mission to keep the lid on drug prices, and for that matter haven’t really done much to advance care management (or "health improvement"), they have made a business out of being decent claims processors and by inserting themselves firmly in the financial dealings between their clients and their "partners" in the pharma world. filed Monday against Caremark:

  No wonder that the biggest PBM, Medco, is starting its first ever PR campaign. There’s no question in my mind that PBMs need to find what we consultants call a new value proposition–but then I’ve been thinking that for a while. What that new value prop is and whether they can get away with doing what they’ve been doing for a while longer while they figure it out is of course up in the air.

It’s interesting that the PBMs are now loudly backing the new health IT initiative (more on that from THCB tomorrow when I hear back from my spies in DC) as the data processing part of their business was indeed launched by the last major change to Medicare. That was the ill-fated Medicare Catastrophic Act which was passed in 1988 and repealed in 1989. One thing that its passage caused was the installation of what ended up being NDC and PCS’ pharma claims and editing transaction systems. So now when you go to the drug store, your claims and co-pay information is right there for the pharmacy tech to read off to you–no, you didn’t notice that happening in the doctor’s office! So it looks like PBMs have decided that the new Medicare "Modernization" Act with its somehow associated IT initiative will do something equally good for its business in the future.

They’d better hope so. Whatever the future holds, their present continues to come under increasing attack. THCB has mentioned before the attempt by large employers to go around the PBMs in negotiating rebates, and several of the bigger PBMs have been settling with trial lawyers and their customers over the extremely opaque nature of their rebate mechanisms. I thought that the plaintiff’s attorney put it rather well in a further lawsuit

The lawsuit says that Caremark keeps discounts from drug makers and pharmacies instead of sharing them with members of the Morrell benefit plan. It says Caremark secretly negotiates rebates for drugs and keeps that money. It also says that the company provides plan members with expensive drugs, instead of cheaper alternatives, to get rebates.

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