FTC Investigates PBMs' Impact on Drug Costs

FTC Investigates PBMs' Impact on Drug Costs

Marcela Santos
2 min read

FTC Scrutinizes Pharmacy Benefit Managers' Role in Inflating Drug Costs and Harming Independent Pharmacies

Pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) are under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for allegedly inflating drug costs and harming independent pharmacies. The FTC is concerned about PBM practices, such as negotiating rebates from drugmakers and setting pharmacy reimbursements, which may lead to higher payments and favor PBM-affiliated pharmacies over independent ones. The top three PBMs – CVS Caremark, Express Scripts, and Optum Rx – manage nearly 80% of prescriptions, raising issues about market dominance and potential conflicts of interest. FTC Chair Lina Khan has highlighted the need to address these practices to ensure affordable healthcare.

The FTC's interim report suggests that PBMs may be directing patients to their own pharmacies, resulting in significant profits from certain drugs and possibly excluding cheaper medications in favor of higher rebates from drug manufacturers. This scrutiny could disrupt the dominance of major PBMs, potentially benefiting independent pharmacies and increasing regulatory pressure on pharmaceutical companies. The investigation might lead to more transparent and competitive practices in the healthcare supply chain, with potential short-term stabilization of drug prices and long-term effects depending on regulatory actions and industry changes.

Key Takeaways

  • PBMs control 80% of US prescriptions, inflating costs and hurting independent pharmacies.
  • Top PBMs' affiliated pharmacies earned $1.6B more than the national average for generic cancer drugs.
  • The FTC report accuses PBMs of engaging in opaque practices and steering patients toward high-cost pharmacies.
  • PBMs may exclude cheaper drugs from formularies in exchange for higher rebates.
  • The FTC pledges to scrutinize dominant healthcare players to ensure affordable access.


The FTC's scrutiny of PBMs could potentially disrupt the dominance of leading companies in the industry and impact their financial stability and market share. The resurgence of independent pharmacies is a possibility, but they may encounter challenges in negotiating drug prices. Pharmaceutical companies, especially those relying on PBMs for market access, could face heightened regulatory pressure. While short-term effects may stabilize drug prices, the long-term implications are contingent on regulatory enforcement and industry adaptation. This scrutiny has the potential to reshape the healthcare supply chain, with an emphasis on transparency and competition.

Did You Know?

  • Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs):
    • Explanation: PBMs are intermediaries that manage prescription drug programs for health insurers, including negotiating drug prices and processing claims for prescription drugs. They play a crucial role in the U.S. healthcare system by managing drug formularies, negotiating rebates and discounts with drug manufacturers, and determining reimbursement rates for pharmacies.
  • Rebates and Formularies:
    • Explanation: Rebates are discounts or payments that drug manufacturers provide to PBMs and health plans in exchange for including their drugs on a formulary, which influences the prescriptions offered to patients.
  • FTC's Role in Healthcare Regulation:
    • Explanation: The FTC is responsible for protecting consumers and ensuring fair competition in the marketplace. In the context of healthcare, the FTC investigates and takes action against practices that may harm consumers or stifle competition, such as price-fixing, exclusionary practices, and deceptive marketing. The FTC's scrutiny of PBMs underscores its commitment to transparency and fairness in the prescription drug market.

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