Aetna Inc. will pass on the discounts it negotiates on prescription drugs to about 3 million of its members, the latest move by a health insurer to address Americans’ complaints about the cost of medicine.
The discounts, which can amount to more than half a drug’s list price, will be passed on at the pharmacy counter for many people starting next year, Aetna Chief Executive Officer Mark Bertolini said in a telephone interview. The move by the No. 3 U.S. health insurer follows a similar decision earlier this month by its larger peer, UnitedHealth Group Inc.
Over the last year, drugmakers, insurers and pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs, have blamed one another for the cost of prescription drugs in the U.S. PBMs and insurers have said it’s the fault of the pharmaceutical companies that frequently raise their list prices. Drugmakers blame insurers and pharmacy benefit plans for high copays, and for not passing on to patients the discounts they negotiate. People with high deductibles or co-pays are often hurt the most.
“We want people to see the truth, and now they see it,” Bertolini said. “When drug prices keep going up, and drug costs keep going up, they’ll have one place to look.”
Aetna’s decision also reflects the consolidating U.S. health care supply chain. Drug plans, pharmacies and insurers are merging, lessening the need for each player to hang on to its own slice of fees and rebates. Aetna last year agreed to be bought by the pharmacy benefit manager and drugstore chain CVS Health Corp., and insurer Cigna Corp. is buying the PBM Express Scripts Holding Co.
“There’s a whole lot in the chain of control of drugs in the way of middlemen that drive up these costs,” Bertolini said. “That’s why you’re seeing the standalone PBM model disappear.”
The moves by Aetna and UnitedHealth address a complaint by the drug industry, that the discounts pharmaceutical companies offer on their treatments don’t reach consumers, distorting the price patients pay. Industry groups for drugmakers have supported passing on the discounts.