AARP, Seattle Pharmacists Endorse Cantwell Bill to Prevent Anti-Consumer Practices by Drug Industry Middlemen

Survey of 1,300 Washingtonians found that 1 in 4 have skipped or used less medication because they couldn’t afford it

SEATTLE, WA – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) held a press conference at the Othello Station Pharmacy to call attention to the rapid rise of prescription drug costs. A 2022 survey found that 1 in 4 Washington state residents rationed or skipped medication refills due to rising costs.

Sen. Cantwell and others also discussed the role that Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) play in increasing costs to patients and forcing independent pharmacies out of business.

“If we allow PBMs to keep going at the rate they're going, other pharmacies … will close and people will have less access, less information and certainly more expensive drugs,” said Sen. Cantwell. “We just can't afford it.”

At the event, AARP WA Advocacy Director Cathleen MacCaul announced the organization’s endorsement of Sen. Cantwell’s Pharmacy Benefit Manager Transparency Act, which would increase drug pricing transparency and hold PBMs accountable for unfair and deceptive practices that drive up prescription drug costs at the expense of consumers.

“Thank you … to … Senator [Cantwell] and Senator Grassley for this bipartisan (PBM) bill,” said MacCaul. “This is significant, because it will allow more older adults to get the prescription drugs that they need to be able to live out their lives. And we're calling into question the business practices that have been going on for a very long time. And we're saying no more. We're saying it's time for transparency, it's time for accountability, and we are not going to put up with it anymore.”

Local pharmacists described the role their businesses play in communities, and the challenges that PBM business practices create.

“We have over seven different languages that are spoken here at this location in our pharmacy. We serve a very diverse population,” said Dr. Ahmed Ali, Pharmacist and Owner of Othello Station Pharmacy. “Most of them walk into this pharmacy because they don’t have the ability to go drive to far [away] places to go get their medications. … People trust an independent pharmacy like ours … it’s a hub for folks to come in and have conversations with us.”

Ryan Oftebro, Principal / Chief Executive Officer of Kelley-Ross Pharmacy Group, explained how PBMs increased drug costs for patients and assessed retroactive fees to his pharmacy.

“In 2018, our pharmacy had $81,000 clawed back from PBMs in the form of retroactive fees,” said Oftebro. “In 2021, it increased to over $538,000 – at a single pharmacy. This was money the PBM pocketed by creating artificial patient overpayments. This was abusive to patients and unsustainable for our pharmacy and we were forced to close our doors.”  

Dr. Ali noted that a nearby independent pharmacy that served the Southeast Asian and Vietnamese community for the last 25 years recently shut down because of low reimbursement rates.

Sen. Cantwell’s bill passed out of the Senate Commerce committee in March 2023. A one-pager document on Sen. Cantwell’s legislation is available HERE.

Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) are middlemen in the prescription drug supply chain who negotiate discounts with drug manufacturers on behalf of insurance plans. PBMs currently operate in the dark without pricing transparency, are responsible for controlling drug prices, and can determine which medications are covered by insurance. Just three PBMs control 80% of the prescription drug market. PBMs engage in harmful practices that drive up costs for patients and pharmacies, making it harder for independent pharmacies like Othello Station Pharmacy to provide care.

Video of Sen. Cantwell’s remarks is available HERE, audio HERE, and a transcript HERE. Photos of the event are available HERE.