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Senators want 'progress report' of FTC’s 18-month probe of pharmacy benefit managers

The Federal Trade Commission launched its inquiry of the 6 largest PBMs in June 2022, after Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) had pressed the commission for years to review their role in determining prices for prescriptions like insulin.


A bipartisan group of U.S. senators wrote a letter to the Federal Trade Commission in January requesting an update on its ongoing investigation of pharmacy benefit managers.


“We support the FTC’s issuance of a Section 6(b) order and conducting a timely study of PBMs’ business practices,” said the letter from Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and 12 colleagues. “With the FTC’s inquiry reaching its year-and-a-half mark, we urge the FTC to complete the study without delay. In the interim, we believe it is important to know the status of the study and therefore ask the FTC to issue a progress report.”


The FTC launched its inquiry in June 2022 after Grassley had pressed the commission for years to review PBMs’ role in determining prices for prescriptions such as insulin. As part of its inquiry, the FTC sent orders to CVS Caremark, Express Scripts, Optum Rx, Humana, Prime Therapeutic and MedImpact Healthcare Systems requiring them to provide information and records regarding their business practices. The intent, according to agency officials, was to scrutinize the impact of vertically integrated PBMs on the access and affordability of prescription drugs. 


“Of the six companies under FTC investigation, three control nearly 80% of the market,” according to a news release from Grassley’s office. “Despite PBMs’ sweeping influence, neither Congress nor the taxpayer has adequate visibility into their operations. By shining a light on PBMs, Grassley, Cantwell and their colleagues are working to identify causes for the skyrocketing prices patients are paying for their prescriptions, as well as solutions to address them.”


An FTC spokesperson told Axios that the investigation is ongoing and that the agency would not comment on when it may release findings. “It’s not unusual for FTC studies to take years,” the spokesperson said. “The agency took three years to complete research into businesses that acquire patents from third parties in connection with IP litigation reform.”


Nevertheless, the letter urged the agency to expedite its work. “A commitment to a timely study and interim progress report will provide transparency, insight about possible competitive harms and inform the responsiveness and cooperation of impacted parties,” it said.


Reporter: Alan Goforth

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