Aetna to pass drug discounts directly to consumers in 2019

A pharmacist consulting with a patient holding medication
The health insurer will start applying the discounts it gets from drug companies at the time of sale for some consumers. (Getty/Steve Debenport)

A major health insurer will begin automatically passing some drug rebate discounts onto members beginning next year.

And leaders at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have been quick to notice.

Aetna announced Tuesday that starting in 2019, pharmacy discounts will be directly applied to the company's employer-sponsored group health plans at the time of sale. Companies often get these discounts from drug manufacturers but insurers have received criticism over whether consumers are reaping any savings. 

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The company said it was aiming for "greater transparency" in response to the 25% increase in drug prices between 2012 and 2016.

RELATED: UnitedHealthcare to share drug rebates with 7M members; the Trump administration approves, says HHS' Alex Azar

“We have always believed that consumers should benefit from discounts and rebates that we negotiate with drug manufacturers,” said Aetna chairman and CEO Mark Bertolini said in an accompanying statement. “Going forward, we hope this additional transparency will encourage these companies to rationalize their pricing and end the practice of annual double-digit price increases.”

The insurer estimated that 3 million of Aetna's 22.2 million medical members may benefit from these rebates. Aetna's announcement follows a similar move made by UnitedHealthcare earlier this month. 

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar praised the move on Twitter, touting the insurer's focus on transparency, a priority of Azar's. Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services echoed that praise.