FTC probe of pharmacy benefit managers stalled after tie vote

The Federal Trade Commission will not immediately investigate pharmacy benefit managers'' drug pricing practices after a deadlocked vote Feb. 17, according to Bloomberg Law.

Commissioners were split 2-2 along party lines in deciding whether to study PBMs' reimbursement rates and whether their practices unfairly favor affiliated pharmacies over independent or specialty ones. Republican members Noah Phillips and Christine Wilson voted against the proposed study after expressing concerns over its design, saying it would not adequately measure how PBMs may affect out-of-pocket drug costs for consumers.

The vote comes amid calls from pharmacy associations and patient advocacy groups to investigate PBM practices, which have traditionally not had strong federal oversight, according to Bloomberg Law. Before the vote, pharmacy leaders testified that low reimbursement rates set by PBMs were threatening to put independent community pharmacies out of business. 

"Two members of the FTC just let the worst actors in the market off the hook," B. Douglas Hoey, CEO of the National Community Pharmacists Association, said in a Feb. 17 statement.

The association called on FTC Chair Lina Khan to bring the issue to a vote again as soon as possible.

The Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, a national group that represents PBMs, pointed to drugmakers' pricing practices as the root cause of high drug costs and said it looks forward to working with the federal government on ways to improve medication access and affordability for consumers. 

"PBMs are holding drug companies accountable by relentlessly negotiating the lowest possible cost on behalf of patients and are driving and delivering local competition that patients are demanding," the association said in an emailed statement to Becker's.

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