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As rebates face the ax, PBMs cast themselves as drug cost cutters in new digital ads

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As the drug pricing wars rage on in Washington and the Trump administration looks to slash rebates as one measure, pharmacy benefit managers have a message for lawmakers. The Pharmaceutical Care Management Association (PCMA) this week launched a campaign aimed at legislators that highlights the benefits the third-party price negotiators say they secure on behalf of patients.

The digital ads tout PBMs as “clamping down on drug price hikes” and “keeping a lid on out-of-control drug prices.” PBMs are currently facing heat from the Trump administration, which just proposed getting rid of rebates between pharma companies and PBMs for Medicare drugs. HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a speech Friday that the rebates would instead become upfront discounts given directly to patients at the pharmacy counter.

RELATED: An end to rebates as we know them? HHS plan would punch PBMs, but pharma might benefit

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PCMA and pharma trade group PhRMA have been taking jabs at each other for several years now as drug pricing has become an increasingly hot—and political—topic. PCMA president and CEO JC Scott said the new campaign is not retaliatory and doesn’t get specific on policy issues, but rather is its attempt to break through the pricing noise in the market today and “point out who we are and what we do.” PMCA released a separate statement on the rebate proposal last week listing its concerns.

But Azar took both groups to task in his speech about phasing out rebates, saying “Today’s system is set up in the shadows, to serve entrenched interests: drug companies who set these prices so high, and the pharmacy benefit managers who receive tens of billions of dollars in rebates without patients ever knowing where the money goes.”

RELATED: PhRMA and PCMA fire up another tit-for-tat spat over new drug pricing ad campaign

The PCMA all-digital campaign will run through the year, Scott said, and will add new messaging and media placements as the year and pricing discussions continue and as PCMA keeps looking to make its case.

“What gets lost in the (drug pricing) debate is the very important role we think pharmacy benefit managers play in helping to reduce costs,” he said. “As policymakers are looking to understand the supply chain and understand the role of all the players in the system, we want to make sure we are giving them a good understanding of what we do.”

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