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Aetna announces plans to pass along drug rebates to consumers at pharmacy counter

Greater transparency is needed in the pharmaceutical supply chain in response to the nearly 25 percent increase in drug prices between 2012 and 2016.

Susan Morse, Senior Editor

Aetna said that it will automatically apply pharmacy rebates for its commercial plan consumers at the time of sale starting in 2019.

The announcement follows a similar release by UnitedHealthcare earlier this month. Both insurers aim to promote transparency, lower out-of-pocket costs and call attention to the high price of prescription drugs.

[Also: Medical supply shortage: 64% of surgical staff hoard, waste or overuse]

Greater transparency is needed in the pharmaceutical supply chain in response to the nearly 25 percent increase in drug prices between 2012 and 2016, insurer said.

Pharmaceutical companies should be held to same regulation as insurers that requires the majority of premiums to be spent on medical expenses, not profit or business costs, according to Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini.

[Also: HHS Secretary Alex Azar backs point-of-sale drug rebates by UnitedHealthcare, CVS Health]

"Additional reforms are needed to bring down rising drug prices that are driving increased spending across the healthcare system," Bertolini said by statement. "Payers are required to spend the vast majority of premium dollars on medical costs, not overhead or profits. Drug manufacturers should be held to the same high standards."

Aetna said it supports the recommendation of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission in improving Medicare Part D by enacting a true out-of-pocket cap for consumers. 

The insurer would like to see the elimination of "gag clauses" that prohibit pharmacists from telling customers that paying cash for prescription drugs may be cheaper than using their health insurance. 

"The company does not require these clauses in contracts with pharmacists, and is encouraged by pending and recently passed legislation aimed at ending this practice," Aetna said.

The rebate discount at point-of-sale will benefit an estimated 3 million Aetna members when filling prescriptions. Currently Aetna passes along savings from rebates to plan sponsors and their employees through lower premiums.

"We have always believed that consumers should benefit from discounts and rebates that we negotiate with drug manufacturers,"  Bertolini said. "Going forward, we hope this additional transparency will encourage these companies to rationalize their pricing and end the practice of annual double-digit price increases."

After UnitedHealthcare announced its point-of-sale drug discount, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar praised the  program as supporting transparency and lowering out-of-pocket costs.

Ben Johnson, Union Pacific Health System's plan pharmacy services director, said at the time that he believes the drug program unfairly penalizes healthier members who are footing the bill through their premiums.

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
Email the writer: susan.morse@himssmedia.com

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