PhRMA keeps pummeling PBMs, launching fresh attack on power over pharmacy choice

PhRMA has rounded up its attack ad team once again for another broadside against pharmacy benefit managers, zeroing in this time on the potential for insurers to profit from where prescriptions get filled.

In recent years, the Big Pharma trade group has responded to criticisms of drug prices by running a string of ads about the effect of PBMs. PhRMA created the blueprint for the attack ads with the spots it ran in 2019 and 2021, and it returned for another round earlier this year in the wake of Congress’ vote to pass contentious drug pricing legislation.

The latest TV spot has the same structure as the two previous ads. In the new spot, titled “Middlemen Are Everywhere,” PhRMA shows a doctor handing a prescription to a patient. As the patient takes the piece of paper, a man in a blue suit wanders over, takes a red lollipop from his mouth and interjects.

“I know just the pharmacy to get this filled,” the man says. The patient, looking perturbed, asks the man who he is, sparking a conversation about what a PBM is and a question: “Why can't I go to a pharmacy in my neighborhood?” Amused by the question, the man in the suit representing the PBM industry says, “well, I make more money when you go to a pharmacy I own.”

The ad ends with two pieces of blue text on a white background. The first line states: “Insurance companies and their PBMs can profit from where you get your prescription filled.” The man in the blue suit wanders into frame, smiles smugly and wanders off again as the text changes to say “no one should stand between you and your medicine.”

Shortly after releasing the new ad, PhRMA uploaded a two-minute video about how a PBM affected a man and his son. The child was born 15 weeks early, spent almost the first two years of his life in the hospital and has undergone multiple procedures. The family’s issue with PBMs chimes with the message of 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,” the father, Benjie, said. “It was many weeks of battles and conversations and letters to get that medication.”

PhRMA is running the campaign as it lobbies for legislation to reform the PBM industry. A broad set of stakeholders including drugmakers, pharmacies and employer groups have rounded on PBMs in recent years, leading states to pass laws targeting the organizations and Congress to mull national action.