Friday, July 25, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Mail-order pharmacy: Savings and discontents

Pennsylvania pharmacists are pushing for parity with mail-order pharmacies that can fill a multi-month prescription for a single co-pay. I'd like to hear from consumers about their experiences - good or bad - with mail-order pharmacies.

Mail-order pharmacy: Savings and discontents

I'd like to hear from consumers about their experiences - good or bad - using mail-order pharmacies.

I'm especially interested in hearing from you if your health insurer either encourages or requires you to use mail order for filling prescriptions.  Insurance companies say that mail order's efficiency saves money for both the insurers and their policyholders, who typically benefit via reduced co-pays for multi-month supplies of medications prescribed for chronic conditions or preventive care.

As I reported in my column in Sunday's Inquirer,  "Pa. pharmacists push for parity with mail order,"  it's clear that some consumers have mixed feelings, at best, about the tradeoff.  They like the savings but  don't like the process: having to send in the prescription, waiting a few days or a week for their medicine, and losing the face-to-face contact with a pharmacist.

It's also clear that the push toward mail order doesn't set well with Pennsylvania's traditional bricks-and-mortar pharmacists, who complain about the loss of revenue and echo many of the consumers' objections.  They plainly resent the sense that they are viewed as anachronisms who are easily replaced by a mail-order pharmacy's phone systems - even if mail-order systems provide "24/7 pharmacist counseling," as I was told by Mark Merritt, president of the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association,

What's less clear is whether the mail-order system is as efficient and beneficial as its advocates contend, which is why I'd like to hear from you about your own experiences.  Please email me at jgelles@phillynews.com.
 
Underlying this issue is the controversial role of companies known as Pharmacy Benefits Managers, or PBMs, which are typically hired by health insurers to oversee their plans' prescription-drug coverage. 
 
The three leading PBMs - Caremark, Medco and Express Scripts - have provided fuel to their critics because they've decided that a key to efficiency is a partial takeover of the retail pharmacy business and its profits.  Each of the top three owns its own mail-order pharmacy. Caremark is owned by CVS, the large drugstore chain.  Those interlocking relationships explain why I called one of the companies that owns a large mail-order pharmacy, and was eventually referred to Merritt, whose organization represents many of the nation's largest PBMs.
 
This is a subject worth more attention, in part because what's happening isn't necessarily obvious to consumers.  It's also interesting because of the history of controversy over the role of PBMs,  and the contentions of critics who say that even health insurers may not fully understand all the complex interrelationships between the PBMs, pharmacies, and drugmakers, or grasp all their consequences.
 
So if you have experiences or thoughts to share, please send them my way.

 

 

 

 

Jeff Gelles Inquirer Business Columnist
About this blog

Jeff Gelles, who writes the Inquirer's weekly Consumer 14.0 and Tech Life columns, takes a broad look at the marketplace of goods, services, and ideas.

Reach Jeff at jgelles@phillynews.com.

Jeff Gelles Inquirer Business Columnist
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