How CVS kept drug costs down despite soaring inflation

The retail giant was able to keep drug price growth to only 0.2% last year despite manufacturer price inflation approaching 10%. (CVS)

CVS says it kept drug price growth at nearly zero for certain clients last year despite high inflation in the industry.

The retail pharmacy giant said it kept price growth at only 0.2% for pharmacy benefit management clients despite 10% inflation, according to a report (PDF) the company released on Thursday. The lower cost growth was due in part to utilizing low-cost generic drugs, which were dispensed to 86% of pharmacy benefit management (PBM) clients. 

“We always encourage the use of clinically appropriate therapeutic alternatives including generics, which can lower cost for payors [sic] and members, leverage competition within drug classes where applicable, and develop innovative strategies to keep prescriptions affordable," Jon Roberts, executive vice president and COO at CVS, said in an accompanying statement.


2019 Drug Pricing and Reimbursement Stakeholder Summit

Given federal and state pricing requirements arising, press releases from industry leading pharma companies, and the new Drug Transparency Act, it is important to stay ahead of news headlines and anticipated requirements in order to hit company profit targets, maintain value to patients and promote strong, multi-beneficial relationships with manufacturers, providers, payers, and all other stakeholders within the pricing landscape. This conference will provide a platform to encourage a dialogue among such stakeholders in the pricing and reimbursement space so that they can receive a current state of the union regarding regulatory changes while providing actionable insights in anticipation of the future.

The announcement comes in the midst of the company's $69 billion merger with health insurer Aetna, a deal both companies say will help lower drug prices for consumers. 

During a time of increasing drug costs, pharmaceutical companies have tried to pass to blame onto pharmacies and insurers, and vice versa. 

RELATED: Report: Brand-name drug prices grew 10 times faster than inflation over last 5 years

The report added that drug utilization growth was 1.7% and out-of-pocket costs for members also declined, with about 75% of members spending less than $100 for their medications. 

The company's reliance on generics to keep prices down follows a lawmaker's report that found prices for brand-name drugs have grown at 10 times greater than the rate of inflation between 2012 and 2017. Additionally, while manufacturer-driven price inflation for specialty drugs was 8.3% in 2017, CVS kept specialty drug cost growth at 3.7% for its client, according to the report. 

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