In the thick of a much-publicized contract dispute and controversial merger, The Pharmaceutical Care Management Association announced Tuesday it has launched a new ad campaign to highlight the value of pharmacy benefit managers.
Key themes of the campaign include how PBMs "reduce pharmacy costs for employers, unions, and consumers;" "play a key role in the Medicare Part D success story;" and how "mail-service pharmacy improves safety, savings, and convenience."
"This ad campaign will educate policymakers and opinion leaders about the important savings and safety benefits PBMs provide to more than 216 million Americans," said PCMA President and CEO Mark Merritt.
Meanwhile, lawmakers are raising questions about a proposed $29 billion merger between PBM giants Express Scripts and Medco, which would combine two of the "big three" PBMs to create a huge entity capable of managing up to two-thirds of all prescriptions filled. Opponents have argued the merger would "give the consolidated, mega-PBM unfettered market power and would actually increase costs for consumers, while decreasing the quality of care," according to a coaltion called Preserve Community Pharmacy Access NOW!
[See also: Senate subcommittee reviews giant PBM merger]
Express Scripts also is in a public rift with retail giant Walgreens after contract negotiations halted on Jan. 1 and left Walgreens pharmacy patients covered by Express Scripts without access to in-network prices at the retailer.
The Express Scripts agreement accounted for 88 million of the 819 million prescriptions Walgreens filled in its fiscal 2011.
Walgreens has offered incentives to keep Express Scripts customers through its drug discount program and is offering one-year memberships throughout the month of January. The company says it is also offering a three-month supply for less than $1 a week for more than 400 generics.
[See also: Walgreens customers caught in PBM rift]
Walgreens has almost 8,000 drugstores in all 50 states. More than 200 community leaders and organizations signed a letter Tuesday to Express Scripts, urging the PBM to go back to the negotiating table with Walgreens, an urban retailer that they say is a "community partner" that not only offers critical pharmacy services but attracts other local businesses.
"We strongly urge Express Scripts to put the people of our communities at the forefront of this issue because prolonging the loss of network access to the critical pharmacy services Walgreens provides will be devastating to our communities," said Harry Alford, president and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. "Walgreens has been committed to serving urban neighborhoods since its founding 110 years ago and continues to serve communities throughout the United States where quality health care services are scarce. The fact is actually 63 percent of all Americans, 75 percent of African Americans, and 78 percent of Latinos are living within 3 miles of a Walgreens store."