UnitedHealthcare shifting all drug rebates to patients

A pharmacy technician looks at prescription pill bottles on shelves.
Photo: Benjamin Lowy/Getty Images

All employers that sign contracts with UnitedHealthcare and OptumRx in 2020 and thereafter will see negotiated drug rebates passed through to the point of sale when their workers pick up their prescriptions, the companies said Tuesday.

The big picture: This builds on UnitedHealth's more limited drug rebate shift from last year, and appears to be a reaction to the Trump administration threatening to ban rebates between drug companies and PBMs in federal health care programs. It's unclear whether UnitedHealth would also charge employers higher fees or raise premiums.

Pharmacy benefit managers are feeling the squeeze

A robot arm picks up a bottle of pills.
A robot at a pharmacy benefit manager sorts drugs. Photo: Stan Honda/AFP via Getty Images

The specter of banishing back-end drug rebates and more aggressive state action has unnerved pharmacy benefit managers heading into 2019.

The big picture: This uncertainty has PBMs on the defensive and appears to be chipping away at their profitable businesses.

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