Brown secures commitment to lower prescription drug costs

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 8, 2022

Will lower drug costs for seniors, support community pharmacies

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, hosted a news conference call on Wednesday to discuss his work securing a commitment from Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, to make it easier for community pharmacies to lower drug prices for Ohioans by addressing direct and indirect remuneration fees.

These fees, which are often levied on community pharmacies retroactively by middlemen companies known as Pharmacy Benefit Managers, increase the cost of prescription drugs for older Ohioans at the pharmacy counter and make it harder for local pharmacies in Ohio to serve their communities, Brown’s office said.

“With so many seniors on fixed incomes worried about rising drug prices, we need to stop these corporate middlemen from making the problem worse,” Brown said. “Prescription drugs are also often among the most overpriced products people buy. There is no reason most of these drugs need to be as expensive as they are, and this is an important step forward to lower costs for older Ohioans.”

Brown’s office said he has led efforts in the Senate to lower drug prices and increase transparency with pharmacy benefit managers and to support community pharmacies and the patients they serve.

In some cases, these fees from PBMs can be so high, small pharmacies can go out of business, they said.

According to Ernest Boyd, the Executive Director of the Ohio Pharmacists Association and Brown’s guest on the call, over the last two years, 250 independent pharmacies in Ohio have closed.

“Prescription drug prices are higher, and pharmacies are being closed, due to the pricing practices of pharmacy benefit managers,” Boyd said. “Thousands of independent and chain pharmacies have closed their doors, when the public needs greater access to pharmacists, not less. Senator Brown, through his efforts to rein in unreasonable fees, will help reduce drug costs, and help pharmacists continue to provide critical services to their patients.”

Douglas Hoey, CEO of the National Community Pharmacists Association, agreed.

“PBMs are among the most powerful corporations in the world, but they are also among the least regulated and least scrutinized,” Hoey said. “Every patient and every taxpayer in the U.S. is negatively affected by the lack of oversight. We’re grateful to Sen. Brown for being one of the earliest and strongest advocates for reforming the way PBMs operate. It’s long overdue and we must hold CMS to their commitment to end retroactive pharmacy DIR clawbacks.”

In October, Brown, alongside Sens. Jon Tester, D-Montana, Shelley Moore Capito, R-West Virginia, and James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, sent a letter urging CMS to either work with Congress to eliminate direct and indirect remuneration fees to help lower prescription drug prices for Medicare Part D beneficiaries or take administrative action to address the problem. CMS committed to taking action in its response to the senators’ letter.

CMS has the authority to take many steps on its own to curb these fees. Over the coming weeks and months, Brown said he will monitor the work CMS is doing to ensure the agency follows through on its promise to bring down these fees, and save Ohioans money at the pharmacy.