Americans may be surprised to learn that they could be paying more for their medications with their insurance copay instead of the cash price available to those without insurance. A study published last week found that Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) undermine claims that negotiated “rebates” with pharmaceutical companies are passed on to consumers. This follows a federal lawsuit filed over the summer after a California woman paid a $164 copay on a medication that can be purchased for $92 from the same pharmacy by anyone not using insurance. This practice is known as “clawback” and is instituted by PBMs who then receive the excess payments from the pharmacy.
Pharmacy Benefit Managers are being found to frequently charge a copay that exceeds a medication’s cash price for generic drugs. Moreover, pharmacists around the country are not allowed to disclose the price discrepancy to patients due to “gag clauses” in their contracts that forbid them from discussing the clawback practices with consumers or offering lower-cost options for those unknowingly opting for a higher price. The National Community of Pharmacists Association, representing 22,000 independent pharmacies, say the trend can be tracked to high-deductible health plans where more of the burden of cost is shifted to the consumer. One Texas pharmacist says his patients have lost more than $7,000 in 2017 that are collected from patients and given to PBMs as profit. Texas became one of eleven states that outlaw clawbacks or gag clauses in September.
Pharmacists reportedly feel complicit in price gouging, and are often not allowed to offer information that could save patients money. However, if a customer specifically asks for a lower price option they are allowed to provide it. With this in mind, it is always a good idea to ask your pharmacist, “Is that the best price for my medication?” to ensure you are not becoming a victim of clawback.
No one should have to worry about being taken advantage of or sacrificing their health due to a lack in finances. For those without any prescription coverage or those who choose not to use it to avoid clawback, the NeedyMeds Drug Discount Card saves 0-80% on the cash price for prescribed medication. A plastic card can be ordered online or requested by calling our toll-free helpline at 800-503-6897, or a printable version can be found on our website as well as a smartphone app on Apple and Android devices. For those still unable to afford their medications, NeedyMeds has an extensive database of Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs) that provide prescriptions for low or no cost. NeedyMeds also has information on Coupons and Rebates that can help lower the cost of necessary medications.