A high-profile class action lawyer has filed lawsuits against the four largest U.S. pharmacy benefits managers, charging the companies with price-fixing, artificially depressing prescription prices and fees to be paid pharmacies, and accepting "kickbacks" in the form of rebates from drugmakers.
Filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama by Birmingham, Ala.-based attorney Archie Lamb on behalf of two independent pharmacies, the lawsuits seek class action status for all pharmacies.
Lamb is lead attorney in two recent eight-figure settlements of physicians' class action lawsuits with Aetna and Cigna on payment policies.
The PBM lawsuits name Medco Health Solutions, in Franklin Lake, N.J.; Express Scripts, in St. Louis; Caremark Rx, in Birmingham; and AdvancePCS, in Irving, Texas, according to a release from Lamb issued on Friday.
PBMs contract with health plans and employers to negotiate discounts for pharmaceuticals with drugmakers, pharmacies and warehouses.
"Together, these Goliaths control the prescription drug benefits for approximately 210 million Americans or 70% of the U.S. population," says Lamb.
Lamb's release names only one of the plaintiffs, North Jackson Pharmacy in Stevenson, Ala.
"PBMs have one goal: to control the prescription drug retail marketplace" says Bryan Hicks, president of plaintiff North Jackson Pharmacy, in the release. "If left unchecked, PBMs will obliterate the remaining 25,000 plus independent pharmacies today and tomorrow will set their sights on all pharmacies. Sick and injured patients will have no one to turn to when they have prescription drug needs and questions."
Jennifer Leone, a spokesperson for Medco, says no one at the company has read the lawsuits, but "they seem to be saying that we are too effective in keeping down the cost of prescription drugs."
Leone says, "We take great pride in containing the costs of medicine for our members. . . . What the retail pharmacists seem to be saying is that they want the costs of drugs to go up."
On Sept. 29, Medco was sued by the U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan in Philadelphia, charging the PBM with canceling, destroying and switching prescriptions and falsifying other documents.