Pharmacy benefit management
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In the United States, a pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) is a third-party administrator (TPA) of prescription drug programs for commercial health plans, self-insured employer plans, Medicare Part D plans, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, and state government employee plans.
According to the American Pharmacists Association (APhA), "PBMs are primarily responsible for developing and maintaining the formulary, contracting with pharmacies, negotiating discounts and rebates with drug manufacturers, and processing and paying prescription drug claims. For the most part, they work with self-insured companies and government programs striving to maintain or reduce the pharmacy expenditures of the plan while concurrently trying to improve health care outcomes."
As of 2016, PBMs manage pharmacy benefits for 266 million Americans. They operate inside of integrated healthcare systems (e.g., Kaiser or VA), as part of retail pharmacies (e.g., CVS Pharmacy or Rite-Aid), and as part of insurance companies (e.g., UnitedHealth Group). There are fewer than 30 major PBM companies in this category in the US, and three major PBMs (Express Scripts, CVS Health, and OptumRx of UnitedHealth Group) comprise 78% of the market and cover 180 million enrollees.
PBMs aggregate the buying clout of enrollees through their client health plans, enabling plan sponsors and individuals to obtain lower prices for their prescription drugs through price discounts from retail pharmacies, rebates from pharmaceutical manufacturers, and the efficiencies of mail-service pharmacies. As of 2015, CVS Caremark said that it reduced its plan members' prescription drug spend to 5%, down from 11.8% in 2014. A 2014 ERISA hearing, however, noted that vertically integrated PBMs may pose "conflicts of interest", and that PBMs' health plan sponsors "face considerable obstacles in...determin[ing] compliance with PBM contracts including direct and indirect PBM compensation contract terms". The Los Angeles times, among other reporters, have shown that PBMs cause an inflation in drug costs, especially within the area of diabetes drugs 
The first PBM, Pharmaceutical Card System Inc. (PCS, later AdvancePCS) originated in 1968 with the invention of the plastic benefit card. By the "1970s, [they] serve[d] as fiscal intermediaries by adjudicating prescription drug claims by paper and then, in the 1980s, electronically".:34 By the late 1980s PBMs had become a major force "as health care and prescription costs were escalating". Diversified Pharmaceutical Services (DPS) was one of the earliest examples of a PBM that entered the market from within a leading national health maintenance organization (HMO) United HealthCare (now United HealthGroup).:304 After its acquisition by SmithKline Beecham in 1994, Diversified played a pivotal role in that company's Healthcare Service division. By 1999 UnitedHealth Group accounted for 44% of DPS's total membership. Express Scripts acquired Diversified April 1, 1999 and consolidated its position as a leading PBM for managed care organizations.
In 2007, when CVS acquired Caremark, the function of PBMs changed "from simply processing prescription transactions to managing the pharmacy benefit for health plans",:34 negotiating "drug discounts with pharmaceutical manufacturers",:34 and providing "drug utilization reviews and disease management".:34 PBMs also created a formulary that encouraged or even required "health plan participants to use preferred formulary products to treat their conditions".:34 In 2012, Express Scripts and CVS Caremark transitioned from using tiered formularies, to ones that began excluding drugs from their formulary.
2002 Marketing expensive brand name drugs
According to an article published in August 2002 in the Wall Street Journal, that while PBMs were "steering doctors to cheaper drugs, especially low-cost generic copies of branded drugs from big pharmaceutical companies" from 1992 through 2002, they had "quietly moved into a new business: helping those same big pharmaceutical companies market their expensive brand-name drugs".
By 1998, PBMs were under investigation by Assistant U.S. Attorney James Sheehan of the federal Justice Department and their effectiveness in reducing prescription costs and saving clients money, were questioned.
Express Scripts Holding Company is the largest pharmacy benefit management (PBM) organization in the United States, with 2013 revenues of $104.62 billion. In 2012 Express Scripts' $29.1 billion acquisition of rival Medco Health Solutions (once the nation's largest PBM) created "a powerhouse in managing prescription drug benefits".
In October 2015 Express Scripts began reviewing pharmacy programs run by AbbVie Inc and Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries Ltd regarding the potential use of tactics that "can allow drugmakers to work around reimbursement restrictions" from Express Scripts and other insurers. Insurers like Express Scripts direct "patients to cheaper generic versions of widely-used medicines to save costs". These reviews resulted from investigations into "questionable practices" at Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc's partner pharmacy, Philidor Rx Services.
In 1994, CVS launched PharmaCare, a pharmacy benefit management (PBM) company providing a wide range of services to employers, managed care organizations, insurance companies, unions and government agencies. By 2002 CVS' specialty pharmacy ProCare, the "largest integrated retail/mail provider of specialty pharmacy services" in the United States,:10 was consolidated with their pharmacy benefit management company, PharmaCare.:4 Caremark Rx was founded as a unit of Baxter International and was spun off from Baxter in 1992 as a publicly traded company. In March 2007, Caremark merged with CVS Corporation to create CVS Caremark, later re-branded as CVS Health.
In 2011 Caremark Rx was the nation's second-largest PBM. Caremark Rx was subject to a class action lawsuit in Tennessee. The suit alleged that Caremark kept discounts from drug manufacturers instead of sharing them with member benefit plans, secretly negotiated rebates for drugs and kept the money, and provided plan members with more expensive drugs when less expensive alternatives were available. CVS Caremark paid $20 million to three states over fraud allegations.
OptumRx, a leading PBM, is one of the Optum businesses of UnitedHealth Group Inc.—the largest single health carrier in the United States. UnitedHealth Group—then-UnitedHealthCare Corporation—was created in 1977. UnitedHealthCare Corporation was renamed in 1998). UnitedHealthCare Corporation acquired Charter Med Incorporated in 1977. Charter Med Incorporated was founded in 1974. UnitedHealthCare Corporation had its origins in the development of the HMO. In March 2015 UnitedHealth Group acquired Catamaran Corporation for about $12.8 billion to extend its PBM business.
PBMs operate in a marketplace where competition has been described as "vigorous" by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Currently, in the United States, a majority of the large managed prescription drug benefit expenditures are conducted by about 60 PBMs. While many PBMs are independently owned and operated, some are subsidiaries of managed care plans, major chain drug stores, or other retail outlets. PBMs compete to win business by offering their clients administrative and clinically based services which manage drug spending by enhancing price competition and increasing the cost-effectiveness of medications.
PBMs provide mail-service pharmacies that supply home-delivered prescriptions without the face-to-face consultation provided by a pharmacist. A 2013 Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) study found negotiated prices at mail order pharmacy to be up to 83% higher than the negotiated prices at community pharmacies.
In 1995 the US FDA found the temperature in a mail box in the sun could reach 136 °F (58 °C) while the ambient air temperature was 101 °F (38 °C).
PBMs advise their clients on ways to structure drug benefits and offer complex selections at a variety of price rates from which clients chose. Investigation of PBM marketing from Fortune Magazine showed:
- Drug pricing is difficult to untangle.
- PBM customers have no way of knowing how much they are saving.
Litigation and controversies
State legislatures are using "transparency", "fiduciary", and "disclosure" provisions to improve the business practices of PBMs.
In 2011 a new division of the Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) was formed, with a mandate to license and regulate PBMs under the Mississippi Board of Pharmacy.
PBMs have been strong proponents in the creation of a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) pathway to approve similar versions of expensive specialty drug that treat conditions like Alzheimer's, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. So-called biosimilar legislation that does not grant brand name drug manufacturers monopoly pricing power is strongly supported by PBMs, AARP, AFL-CIO, the Ford Motor Company, and dozens of other consumer, labor, and employer organizations concerned about runaway health care costs in both the private and public sector. A recent Federal Trade Commission (FTC) found that patents for biologic products already provide enough incentives for innovation and that additional periods of exclusivity would "not spur the creation of a new biologic drug or indication" and "imperils" the benefits of the approval process.
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