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The generic drug pricing game: How some PBMs are rigging the system.

Traditional pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) are manipulating generic drug prices through deceptive tactics, preventing patients and plan sponsors from fully realizing the potential savings.

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Generic medications are intended to be cost-effective alternatives to brand-name drugs. They play a vital role in making medications more affordable and accessible, typically costing 80-85% less. However, patients and plan sponsors may not always reap the full benefits depending on their PBM structure.

What are generic medications?

When the patent for a brand-name drug expires, other manufacturers can produce and sell generic versions. These generics contain the same active ingredients, dosage, use cases, and side effects as their brand-name counterparts. For example, Motrin is the brand name for ibuprofen, Claritin for loratadine, and Lipitor for atorvastatin. Generics also go through rigorous approval processes to ensure they meet the same standards as brand-name drugs for safety, efficacy, and quality. Despite their identical therapeutic benefits, generic drugs are priced significantly lower due to reduced development costs and market competition.

Unveiling the true cost of generic drugs.

Behind the scenes, traditional pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) are exploiting the system to inflate the prices of generic medications, sometimes marking them up by as much as 20%. These practices are driving up pharmacy costs and restricting access to necessary medications for both employers and their teams.

Traditional PBMs use self-serving pricing structures and rebate schemes along with deceptive formulary designs to prevent consumers from benefitting from the savings that generic drugs offer.

Unclear pricing models.

PBMs can artificially inflate the prices of generic drugs and pocket the excess profits, leaving patients and plan sponsors to cover the inflated costs. The tactics they use include:

Steering members away from generics.

The position of a drug on a formulary affects its insurance coverage and cost. Traditional PBMs' formulary designs often disadvantage generics through:

The impact on your teams.

The lack of PBM transparency increases pharmacy costs and limits employees' medication options. Tactics like copay clawbacks, spread pricing, and rebate games inflate drug costs, leading to higher premiums, copays, and out-of-pocket expenses for employees.

Employers often struggle to understand the profit mechanisms of PBMs and how much of the savings from generics are actually passed on to them. This lack of drug price transparency puts benefit administrators at a significant disadvantage during negotiations. Without a clear understanding of the true cost of medications, they cannot secure favorable terms with their PBM or make informed decisions for their teams.

Maximize the benefits of generics.

Despite these challenges, there are strategies plan sponsors can use to ensure they get the most out of generics:

  1. Review your contract: Ensure your PBM contract includes clear terms on how generic savings are passed back to you. Regular audits or detailed reports from your PBM can verify that the agreed-upon savings are realized.

  2. Analyze generic utilization: Assess the use of generics in your plan to identify improvement opportunities. Work with your PBM to implement formulary designs that prioritize generics and encourage their use over brand-name drugs.

  3. Educate your teams: Communicate the benefits of choosing generics over brand-name drugs to your employees. Inform them about cash-pay options for generics, like Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drugs, which can be significantly cheaper than using insurance coverage.

Embrace transparency with Rightway.

Avoid the deceptive practices surrounding generics by partnering with a transparent PBM. Rightway does not engage in shady pricing strategies like spread pricing or copay clawbacks and prioritizes the highest-value drugs. 

Discover how Rightway’s effective, pass-through PBM can unlock the full value of generics and transform pharmacy benefits for your organization. Learn more here.

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Learn more about our care navigation and PBM solutions.

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