The health insurance industry trade association AHIP launched a national advertising campaign Monday that reignites its public spat with pharmaceutical companies over the cost of prescription drugs.
"Health insurance companies are your bargaining power" begins the 30-second spot that AHIP is spending "seven figures" to air on television and social media through the end of the year, according to a news release and an association spokesperson. In the ad, AHIP urges viewers to "Reject Big Pharma's Rx Distractions." The industry group said it also has placed ads with Capitol Hill publications in Washington, D.C.
Drugmakers, represented by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, likewise point fingers at health insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers for driving up what patients pay for medicines. "They do play a role in restraining costs, but there's very little evidence that the fruits of their efforts are actually translating into lower costs for consumers," PhRMA President and CEO Stephen Ubl said at an event sponsored by The Hill newspaper in Washington last month.
Drugmakers and insurance companies are natural rivals in the marketplace and have squabbled in and out of public view for decades as pharmaceutical prices perpetually rise, along with insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses, and patients look for culprits to blame.
Health insurance companies rely on pharmacy benefit managers to assemble prescription drug formularies and to control costs. The three largest PBMs, which hold a collective 80% market share, are affiliated with insurers following years of consolidation: CVS Caremark and Aetna are CVS Health subsidiaries; Express Scripts is a Cigna subsidiary; and OptumRx and UnitedHealthcare are UnitedHealth Group subsidiaries. Aetna and Cigna are AHIP members but UnitedHealth Group is not.
This latest AHIP effort comes as PBMs are under escalating scrutiny from lawmakers, regulators and law enforcement agencies at the state and the federal levels. The specifics of these inquiries vary, but the core question is whether PBMs make drug pricing deals that benefit themselves rather rather than patients.
AHIP declined comment and would not provide additional information about its ad campaign, such as its budget or where and when the video spot will appear.