PhRMA has once again mobilized its attack ad team to launch a fresh assault on pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), this time focusing on the potential for insurers to profit based on where prescriptions are filled. In response to ongoing criticism of high drug prices, the pharmaceutical industry’s major trade group has rolled out a series of ads highlighting the impact of PBMs. This advertising strategy was initially developed in 2019 and further utilized in 2021, and it has made a return this year following Congress’ controversial decision to pass drug pricing legislation.
The latest TV advertisement follows the same format as its predecessors, titled “Middlemen Are Everywhere.” The ad features a doctor handing a prescription to a patient, but a man in a blue suit interrupts, suggesting a particular pharmacy to fill the prescription. The patient, puzzled, questions the man’s identity, sparking a conversation about PBMs and the patient’s inquiry: “Why can’t I go to a pharmacy in my neighborhood?” With a hint of amusement, the man in the blue suit, representing the PBM industry, responds, “Well, I make more money when you go to a pharmacy I own.” The ad, featuring Peter Flihan reprising his role as the man in the blue suit, closes with two lines of blue text on a white background. The first line asserts, “Insurance companies and their PBMs can profit from where you get your prescription filled.” As the text changes to read “no one should stand between you and your medicine,” Flihan exits the frame, wearing a smug smile.
Shortly after releasing this new ad, PhRMA uploaded a two-minute video recounting how a PBM impacted a man and his son. The child, born 15 weeks premature, spent nearly the first two years of his life in the hospital and underwent multiple medical procedures. The family’s experience with PBMs aligns with the message conveyed in the TV spot.
“We were told by a PBM that we had to change pharmacies. We’d been using the same pharmacy since 2009. It was a really big pain to do this, especially for one medication because the new pharmacy didn’t carry it. They didn’t have a client that ever needed it,” shared the father, Benjie. “It was many weeks of battles and conversations and letters to get that medication.”
PhRMA’s campaign coincides with its lobbying efforts for legislative reforms within the PBM industry. Various stakeholders, including drug manufacturers, pharmacies, and employer groups, have increasingly taken aim at PBMs in recent years. This has resulted in several states passing laws targeting these organizations, while Congress considers potential nationwide action.