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CHEAT SHEET: Health Care's Secret Middleman

Sep 1, 2022 Aditi Ramaswami
In just five minutes we’ll tell you what you need to know about the shadowy power of pharmacy benefit managers.
CHEAT SHEET: Health Care's Secret Middleman
A child receives asthma treatment in his home. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

There is a major player in the U.S. health care system that flies under the radar but wields tremendous power in determining who gets access to life-saving medication. A group of businesses called Pharmacy Benefit Managers, or PBMs, set prescription drug benefits nationwide — and instead of passing savings they negotiate onto patients, these firms pocket the proceeds and reap gargantuan profits.

A tiny handful of PBMs, most of which are owned by insurers, control nearly the entire market, shape the benefits of hundreds of millions of Americans, and boast sky-high revenues — yet most people don’t know they exist, and they have long skirted federal oversight.

“Although many people have never heard of pharmacy benefit managers, these powerful middlemen have enormous influence over the U.S. prescription drug system,” said Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair Lina Khan in a June press release on the matter.

In today’s Cheat Sheet, exclusively for supporting subscribers, we will teach you all about PBMs, explain why they’re so dangerous, and highlight what can be done to stop them.

If you’d like to read the full Cheat Sheet, please click here to become an $8-a-month or $70-a-year supporting subscriber. When you become a supporting subscriber, you get this kind of exclusive content, you get access to our live events, you get our Citizens' Guide To Holding The Powerful Accountable — and you are helping us hire more journalists.

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