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New state bill would allow pharmacists to tell patients about less expensive medication options

2 weeks 1 day 8 hours ago Thursday, May 09 2024 May 9, 2024 May 09, 2024 10:47 PM May 09, 2024 in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE - Nationwide, four in 10 adults in the U.S. live with one or more chronic diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Though in Louisiana, experts say access to medication can be confusing or difficult due to high costs and availability.

Rep. Chad Brown (D-Plaquemine) proposed a bill — HB 509 — allowing pharmacists to tell patients about less expensive medication options. It would also forbid pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) from interfering with insurance rates based on discounts available to some patients.

Pharmacy benefit managers are middlemen contracted by health insurance companies to negotiate drug prices and grant pharmacy benefits. Randall Johnson, president and CEO of the Louisiana Independent Pharmacies Association, says pharmacies are trying to make expensive medications available.

“The consumer needs access to prescription drugs,” Johnson said. “This piece of legislation helps see that there are opportunities for the patients to have access to the medication.”

Johnson says PBMs drive the cost of medication. They often require manufacturers to pay rebates in order for the manufactured drug to be used by pharmacies. He says these middleman add costs onto the patients.

The bill would require that insurance companies in Louisiana not look at patients’ assistance from outside organizations in determining insurance rates of prescription drug benefits. Johnson says when people with chronic illnesses receive financial help from non-profits to afford medication, insurance companies use the discounted rate of one person in determining the cost for others.

PBMs charge some pharmacies lower prices and charge insurance companies high. He says that can lead to higher costs across the board.

“I think what we should always remind patients is to ask your pharmacist,” Johnson said. “Speak to your pharmacist about the lowest cost alternative for you.”

If the bill passes, Johnson says Louisiana pharmacies can offer the lower price option. He says often the cash price is lower than the copay from the insurance company.

“This bill would offer an opportunity that the insurance company would bring more transparency to the pricing they have on prescription drugs.”

The bill is set for discussion in the Committee on Insurance.

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