Arkansas House committee advances pharmacy benefit manager regulation bill

The House Insurance & Commerce committee voted unanimously on Tuesday to send a bill that would license and regulate pharmacy benefit managers to a full house vote on Wednesday. (Photo: KATV)

A bill to license and regulate insurance middlemen, better known as pharmacy benefit managers, is one step closer to reality after the Arkansas House Insurance & Commerce committee voted unanimously on Tuesday to send the bill to a full house vote on Wednesday.

"To my knowledge we would be the first state to license or regulate PBMs," said State Rep. Michelle Gray, (R-Melbourne), sponsor of the bill in the house.

The legislation was proposed after a massive outcry from Arkansas pharmacists claiming they're being squeezed by PBMs with low drug reimbursement rates.

Rep. Gray tried to dispel concerns from fellow lawmakers regarding concerns the bill would either be setting drug prices or result in higher co-pays for prescriptions.

"No where in here are we saying what the prices are going to be," said Gray. "What we're saying is that the reimbursements have to be fair and reasonable to ensure that you have an adequate network of pharmacies. So if you have pharmacies across the state start closing and your pricing is not fair - you're not going to have an adequate network and you will no longer be licensed to do business in the state of Arkansas."

State Senator Ronald Caldwell (R-Wynne), the bill's sponsor on the senate side urged a yes vote from his fellow senators at the opening of the state's special session on Tuesday.

There were concerns raised by Sen. Bart Hester over self-funded employer healthcare plans like those used at Tyson and Walmart and what affect the PBM bill on those plans. An attorney with the state's Insurance Department attempted to quell similar fears at the house committee meeting discussing the proposed legislation on Tuesday. The lawyer said the legislation only applies to insurance companies and HMO's - not self-funded plans.

The PBM bill is one of seven bills that were advanced to a full house vote on Tuesday. Representatives will vote on the bills on Wednesday at 10:00 AM. Senate committees will begin to discuss and vote on mirror legislation Wednesday morning as well.

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