By Leslie Small

Though the two major transactions that upended the PBM landscape — Cigna Corp. buying Express Scripts Holding Co. and CVS Health Corp. acquiring Aetna Inc. — have already taken place, that doesn’t mean the sector won’t see more changes this year, industry experts tell AIS Health.

“The market is evolving,” says Brian Anderson, a principal with Milliman, Inc. The year 2020 will be marked by a presidential election and significant price pressure on manufacturers, along with pharmacies trying to retain their margin, he adds, “so it’s going to be a really wild year.”

Indeed, 2019 ended with Prime Therapeutics LLC and Express Scripts unveiling a three-year collaboration in which the latter PBM will negotiate with pharmaceutical manufacturers, on behalf of Prime’s members, for drugs covered on the pharmacy benefit, as well as provide services related to retail network contracting.

By teaming up with Prime, Express Scripts will be leading rebate negotiations and pharmacy network development for 103 million people, Adam Fein, Ph.D., CEO of Pembroke Consulting, Inc.’s Drug Channels Institute, wrote in a blog post. “This combined volume of Express Scripts and Prime will have enormous leverage with manufacturers and pharmacies,” he noted.

To Ashraf Shehata, KPMG national sector leader for health care and life sciences, the Prime/Express Scripts partnership is yet another example of “pure play” PBMs’ move toward consolidation. Given that trend, the opportunity to scale up both organizations’ purchasing power, and “the ability to kind of lock in Blue clients,” Shehata says, “I think it makes a lot of sense” for the two PBMs to team up.

Employers, meanwhile, are likely to press PBMs of all varieties for innovative solutions — not just deep drug-pricing discounts — during the selling season for 2021 contracts, Anderson says.

Therefore, “there’ll probably be a lot of new innovators in the market — people coming up with new products that maybe look and sound different,” he says. “But the question people are going to have to ask is, how different really is it? And is it really a differentiator in the marketplace?”