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Tennessee pharmacists gathered at the state Capitol on Tuesday to speak with legislators about the enforcement of pharmacy benefit manager laws. They say an unregulated part of the health care industry is costing the system money and harming patients and private pharmacies.

Pharmacy benefit managers are companies that are contracted to manage prescriptions for insurance companies. Members of the Tennessee Pharmacist Association approached the legislature to say that PBMs are harmful to patients and create undo costs by steering patients away from local pharmacies to chain pharmacies. PBMs have an impact on which pharmacies have access to medications and how much they’re funded.

Dr. Jay Phipps is a pharmacist with four locations in Waverly, Jackson, Huntingdon and McKenzie. He said he loses patients every day to steering practices, but he is optimistic that legislators are open to reform.

“Since the PBMs own the pharmacies, they control the pricing, the contractors and the pharmacies,” Phipps said. “They encourage patients to use their own pharmacies.”

The General Assembly passed Public Charter 569 in 2021, a reform bill that prohibits patient steering, gives patients the ability to choose their own pharmacies and protects reimbursement rates for pharmacies. Members of the Tennessee Pharmacist Association insist the law isn’t being enforced.

Anthony Pudlo is the executive director of the association and helped organize Tuesday’s gathering. He said the PBMs are an unregulated aspect of the medical system that needs to be regulated.

“PBMs have used reasonings that there has been federal law that preempts the state from doing so, but two years ago there was a US Supreme Court ruling that it is the ability of a state to have the right to regulate the practice of PBMs,” Pudlo said. “That piece helps us to tell the state that they have the right. PBMs are regulated and should be regulated. I think the pharmacists here today have more than enough examples to showcase the detrimental effects PBMs are bringing into the community.”

The TPA held its annual winter meeting at the Hilton Downtown with over 300 attendees from across the state this past weekend. Pharmacists, students and technicians discussed topics such as regulation, clinical practice trends, industry issues and the effects of the pandemic.

Tuesday’s gathering was its annual Pharmacy Day on the Hill event, in which the group brings the voices of pharmacists to elected officials. Pharmacists arranged individual meetings with members of the legislature and spent the day advocating for enforcement of the state’s laws.

The meetings were a valuable learning experience for pharmacy students who followed their representatives. Students from Lipscomb University were chaperoned by Dr. Justin Kirby, a professor, as an extracurricular event.

“We want to make sure we have a chance to talk about what we’re concerned about,” Kirby said. “I really want them to see the importance of knowing your legislator, knowing your representatives and knowing how to advocate for their patients and what’s best for their profession.”

Pudlo said he hopes to spread the message that pharmacists are advocates for their patients.

“Our hope is to carry the message that the pharmacist is here for the patient. There is an unregulated area in the health care industry that is adding to the cost of our health care system. They need to be regulated, and there is the ability to do so, and we need to make sure that happens.”

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