There isn’t a politician in this state that would campaign on making prescription drug prices more expensive for businesses and families. In fact, during election time, they usually promise to help protect businesses and workers from unwarranted increases in health care costs. So what happens to these good intentions on that drive to Jefferson City each week?
By now, most people understand that there is no silver bullet to solve the health care affordability crisis in America. Rather, businesses must find and knit together various actions to realize savings on behalf of their companies and workers. One significant step businesses (both in Missouri and nationally) have taken to save money on prescription drug costs is to work with their health plans and pharmacy benefit managers to select pharmacy networks that offer savings in exchange for access to larger volumes of potential patients.
These narrow networks have delivered cost savings so successfully that 76 percent of U.S. employers report using some type of preferred pharmacy network. Research from independent health care economists agree. As published on Yale University’s “1% Solutions for Health Care Reform” website, preferred pharmacy networks were found to lower drug spending in private insurance plans by approximately 2 percent annually and are recommended as a strategy for employers. With businesses spending over $14,000 per employee on health benefit costs each year according to Mercer, even these small savings can translate to meaningful dollars for other important investments — raises, bonuses, lower insurance premiums, or new jobs.
But these savings to businesses and families would disappear overnight if HB 1677 or SB 921 were to become law. Both bills attempt to enact “any willing provider” provisions. If passed, the legislation would mandate that pharmacy benefit managers and health plans contract with any pharmacy, regardless of if they meet price, quality, or geographic access standards currently in place.
At a time when businesses need every single tool at their disposal to help slow the rate of prescription drug costs, these bills would open the floodgates. I understand the desire of the pharmacy lobby to increase profits, but this legislation would do so at the expense of business, families, and even taxpayers. Which is why this legislation is opposed by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Missouri, and the St. Louis Area Business Health Coalition – organizations representing hundreds of employers that provide health benefits to thousands in Missouri and millions nationally.
Our communities are already hurting due to high health care costs. Let’s not make the pain worse by passing legislation that supports the financial interest of independent pharmacies while taking away important savings for businesses and families. Food for thought as legislators embark on their next weekly commute to Jeff City.
Louise Probst is the executive director of the St. Louis Area Business Health Coalition.