Antitrust exemption bill for independent pharmacies gets House hearing

March 27, 2012

A bi-partisan bill that would extend anti-trust immunity to independent pharmacies is slated for hearings before the House Judiciary Committee in Washington, D.C., later this week.

A bi-partisan bill that would extend antitrust immunity to independent pharmacies is slated for hearings before the House Judiciary Committee in Washington, D.C., later this week.

The bill, Preserving Our Hometown Independent Pharmacies Act, was introduced in 2011 by Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa). If enacted, the legislation would allow independent pharmacies to negotiate as a group with pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs).

Marino’s bill, H.R. 1946, currently has 30 co-sponsors, from both sides of the aisle, as well as support from the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) and the Association of Community Pharmacists Congressional Network, which is working with pharmacists to send briefing letters supporting the bill to key subcommittee members. 

“It is a critical issue for pharmacy to be able to work together to negotiate reimbursement rates, access, and other issues that protect patients,” antitrust attorney David Balto told Drug Topics. “PBMs use antitrust as a club to coerce pharmacies into serf-like status.”

The bill enhances the ability of community pharmacies to negotiate with PBMs and third-party payers. Current language allows independent pharmacies to negotiate collectively for the terms and conditions of insurance contacts to produce plan designs that better protect patient access to their pharmacy of choice.

Independents claim that about a third of Medicare Part D patients are enrolled in pharmacy benefit plans with a closed pharmacy network that excludes independents. Four independents in North Carolina recently filed suit in federal court to open closed pharmacy networks to any willing provider.

“For years, small pharmacies have had to endure one-sided, take-it-or-leave-it contracts that can disadvantage community pharmacists with onerous contract terms while impeding true competition for consumers,” said Douglas Hoey, RPh, MBA, NCPA executive vice president and CEO. “By contrast, large pharmacy chains have a great ability to negotiate contracts.”