GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – House Bill 246: Revise Pharmacy Benefits Manager Provisions passed in the North Carolina State House recently.

Sponsors of the bill said improving healthcare statewide starts on the local level, adding House Bill 246 evens the playing field when it comes to drug distribution and healthcare.

House Bill 246 looks at pharmacy benefits managers, or PBMs, which are third-party groups that serve as a middleman between insurance providers, drug companies and pharmacies, said primary bill sponsor NC Rep. Wayne Sasser.

“The PBMs don’t touch any patient, they don’t diagnose any patients, you know, they don’t treat any patients. They just negotiate contracts,” Sasser said.

NC Rep. Chris Humphrey, another primary bill sponsor, said these PBMs hurt independently owned pharmacies.

“The independents have to contract with PBMs, so they can have the drugs,” Humphrey said. “But it’s almost like a monopoly, they don’t have many choices and they’re forced to sell products below cost and that just doesn’t seem fair.”

Sasser said spread pricing is one way PBMs make a profit.

“They will keep the difference between what they charge you to fill a prescription as the policyholder and what they pay the drugstore to fill a prescription as the one who’s actually providing the service to the patient,” Sasser said.

Humphrey said the bill would restrict spread pricing, fees and rebates, practices that make it difficult for small locally-owned pharmacies to survive. More independent pharmacies would give consumers expanded healthcare options, he added.

“It’ll give customers more choices, lower drug costs, greater access. You know, rural areas are suffering the most in North Carolina,” Humphrey said. “I mean, there’s not as many doctors, not as many pharmacists, not as many healthcare workers, they’re all moving to the bigger cities, and bigger hospitals, and bigger areas. I think this bill will even the playing field.”

Sasser has a background as a pharmacist. He said this bill is needed because it increases transparency in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry.

“This bill is about transparency, OK?” Sasser said. “Whether it’s a provider, whether it’s a hospital, or definitely where it’s an insurance company, then we want to know, how they’re running their business, we want to know how it impacts the cost of healthcare.”

House Bill 246 passed unanimously. It now sits with the NC Senate for further consideration.

In a statement to WNCT, Representative Gloristine Brown stated:

“The way the current law is written provides an unfair advantage to pharmacy benefit managers, and it’s clear that we need to make some changes. The power that PBMs hold over our independent pharmacies has overwhelmingly harmed them and it’s why we continue to see smaller pharmacies struggle and eventually close. Furthermore, PBMs claim they advocate for the benefit of lower pharmaceutical costs for patients, but we continue to see examples of them pushing higher priced drugs on patients simply to improve their bottom line.”