For a full transcript of this episode, click here.
Listen to this show as either a follow-on or a prequel to the shows with Mark Cuban and Ferrin Williams, PharmD, MBA (EP418) and Ge Bai, PhD, CPA (EP420). And if you’re interested in this “what’s going on in the world of PBMs, pharmacies, and employers” topic, also listen to the show with Joey Dizenhouse coming out on January 11, 2024. If you need the 101 on what’s going on out there for indie pharmacies in your community, I’d recommend the show with Vinay Patel (EP241).
What would you do if you owned an independent pharmacy and you discovered that most of your profit was coming from dispensing 10% of prescriptions? That if you just stopped filling 90% of the drugs; fired all your staff except, like, one person; and just filled the drugs that you made money on? If you did this, you would actually make more money in the pharmacy than you’re currently making filling every single prescription. What would you do?
This is the math that Benjamin Jolley, PharmD, my guest in this healthcare podcast and a multigenerational pharmacy leader and consultant to other pharmacies, discovered and wrestles with on the show today. And oh, by the way, a pharmacy is not gonna make it up in extra toilet paper sales or chewing gum sales when patients come into the pharmacy to pick up their meds. I asked Benjamin this, and he basically laughed at me.
[What are the 10% of drugs that an indie pharmacy can make money on? You’re going to find this to be a shocking coincidence. It’s the same drugs that many of the consolidated PBM/pharmacies mandate are filled at their own pharmacies or mail order. And many self-insured employers maybe unwittingly sign contracts enabling this to go down, which, in effect, enables these consolidated PBM/pharmacies to essentially corner the market on profits from commercial purchasers.]
So, turning our attention now to how to lose money in the pharmacy business, there’s two ways to lose money: either outright losing money because the acquisition costs of the meds are actually more than the PBM (pharmacy benefit manager) mandates the indie pharmacy can charge its insured members. So, that’s one way to lose money. A second way to lose money as an indie pharmacy is because generics are so cheap. The cost of providing the pill bottle might exceed the profits on a 47-cent generic, even if the profit margin is 100%—again, because the PBM sets the price.
Now, you might be thinking the same thing I was thinking when Benjamin Jolley talked about this: Okay, well maybe … ugh! We want the patient to save money here, so … ?
Here’s the really big point that Benjamin Jolley knows because he sees this every day: What the patient pays and what the pharmacy gets paid has no relationship to each other or to what an employer plan may or may not pay. So, if the patient/member pays more and the independent community pharmacy gets paid less, that doesn’t mean it will be a better deal for the employer. It doesn’t mean it will be a better deal for the patient. Why? Because there’s a PBM in the middle. Ge Bai talks about this in episode 420. For every $100 that is spent on generic drugs, $41 goes to the PBM. Seventy-nine percent of the time, if a plan member is in their deductible phase, it’s cheaper to pay cash than to use the insurance that member is paying for.
As someone said on LinkedIn the other day talking about patients paying premiums and paying more for generics than if they’d just gone in and paid cash, here’s the quote: “You can pay more to pay more.” With so many deductibles as high as they are and with so many people who never reach their deductibles, as Benjmain Jolley says during the show today, we’re giving this third party a lot of control over a transaction that they literally have nothing to do with something like three out of four times that any given patient picks up their generic med. How’d we get here as a society? It’s weird.
If you’ve listened to most of the shows that I’ve been doing lately largely spiraling around the whole “what’s going on with the prices that patients/members are paying for generic drugs,” you might be thinking the same thing I am: It’s such an egregious situation that it becomes an opportunity because the bar is so darn low and so many in the supply chain or the demand chain are getting royally screwed by the PBMs, not just patients. I mean, there’s a lot of possible win-win collaborations, at least situationally. Local pharmacies and local businesses, for example, would seem to have a natural alliance. I’m reminded of the collaboration from a couple of years ago that Drew Leatherberry and Dan Strause talked about in episode 313. I’m super sure that you in the Relentless Health Value Tribe has or could come up with all kinds of innovative collaborations to help patients get affordable generic drugs, and I’d be super psyched to hear about them.
Benjamin Jolley is a pharmacist by training. His pharmacy consulting company is Apex Pharmacy Consulting.
You can also connect with Benjamin on LinkedIn.
Benjamin Jolley, PharmD, is a third-generation independent pharmacy operator. Since 2019, he has been dedicated to supporting pharmacy operators across the nation in unraveling the complexities of the financial systems that drive their businesses. Through his occasional blog at benjaminjolley.substack.com, he shares insights derived from his experience. In 2023, he partnered with Joe Williams to launch Apex Pharmacy Consulting. Their goal is to provide comprehensive and personalized consulting services tailored to enhance pharmacy operations.
04:47 Benjamin Jolley’s recent revelation.
06:14 What are the 10% of drugs that provide all the profit for pharmacies?
09:21 What’s happening with the other 90% of drugs that pharmacies are filling?
11:05 What is the breakdown of costs when fulfilling prescriptions and running a pharmacy?
21:42 What is the “cost savings” within the “insane system” of PBMs not sharing profit with independent pharmacies?
23:00 What is one of the things that PBMs and pharmacies don’t often talk about?
26:39 What can employers do so that patients aren’t getting overcharged by PBMs?
27:51 “How do I make the PBMs irrelevant?”
33:30 What’s the difference between an independent pharmacy delivery service and a service like Express Scripts?
34:36 What’s the other potential solution in solving the problems independent pharmacies face, and why does Benjamin Jolley feel that it’s not the best solution to pursue?
You can also connect with Benjamin on LinkedIn.
Benjamin Jolley of Apex Pharmacy Consulting discusses #indiepharmacy on our #healthcarepodcast. #healthcare #podcast #pharma #healthcareleadership #healthcaretransformation #healthcareinnovation
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