Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Tuesday Tip of the Week: It is a Myth That Any Pharmacy Benefit Manager Offers Better Price Savings Because of Their Size

It is a myth that the Big 6 (ESI, CVS, Optum, Humana, MedImpact and Prime) offers better price savings just because of their size. The myth is often perpetuated by the old guard who for a long time have personally benefited from overpayments received from opaque PBM business practices. We can't expect the old guard to bite the hand that feeds them, can we?

Sure, the Big 6 have more purchasing power, but their clients often don't realize the full benefit. For example, if our rebate aggregator pays us, TransparentRx, a $3000 rebate for drug "A" every penny goes back to the client with an audit trail. The audit trail includes claim level detail (e.g. claim number, NDC, date and rebate amount) for every drug which earned a rebate payment. 

The Big 6 might earn $4000 on that same drug, but retains $1200 in-house, for instance. The plan sponsor pockets an additional $200 working with a radically transparent, albeit smaller, PBM. Without an audit trail a PBM could earn a rebate on a drug and not share any of those dollars with the plan sponsor who actually earned it. A similar scenario plays out in mail, specialty and retail pharmacy networks.


Price quotes (RFPs etc...) are simply an estimate of what the plan sponsor would have spent had the historical utilization matched that of the proposing PBM (a lot in this sentence). Furthermore, the future actual cost is unknown. As a result, the plan sponsor’s PBM contract is the most important tool to address the actual level of spend - not cost projections. Non-fiduciary PBMs know full well what you like to see in proposals. When contract language is opaque, the non-fiduciary PBM starts to eat away at the proposed savings, i.e. discount and rebate guarantees, as soon as you go live.

If you've never considered the PBM management fee in how you procure pharmacy benefit management services, watch this free webinar. The PBM management fee isn't what you think it is. It is largely the undisclosed fee a PBM charges for providing their services to plan sponsors. For non-fiduciary PBMs, the bulk of this fee is buried in the final plan pharmacy cost. It goes without saying, the contract is king.

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