According to data from the Pharmacy Audit Assistance Service (PAAS) National, the Covid-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) has negatively affected pharmacies navigating audits by Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBM). PBMs are companies who are primarily responsible for developing and maintaining drug formularies, contracting with pharmacies, negotiating discounts and rebates with drug manufacturers, and processing and paying prescription drug claims. PBMs manage prescription drug benefits on behalf of health insurers, Medicare Part D drug plans, large employers, and other payers. PBMs routinely conduct audits on member pharmacies in order to monitor pharmacies’ performance and identify alleged improper payments made to the pharmacies. However, PBMs have been criticized for overstepping those audit functions by utilizing audits as a source of revenue for themselves at the expense of independent pharmacies and patients.
In response to the PHE, many state insurance agencies and PBMs themselves suspended in-person audits in 2020 and shifted to virtual audits. The virtual nature of a PBM audit means pharmacies are responsible for a greater workload because they must complete tasks that would normally be completed by a PBM during a field audit. For example, pharmacies must locate, organize, and deliver hundreds of pages of documents and records in compliance with PBMs’ standards, while managing the day-to-day pharmacy operations. Although virtual PBM audits allows benefit managers to review more pharmacy claims than during traditional in-person audits, it also allows them to potentially deny more claims than before.
According to PAAS National, even though the number of pharmacy audits in 2020 declined nearly 14% year over year, the overall number of prescriptions reviewed increased by 40%. PAAS data also shows that the average audit in 2020 cost pharmacies $23,978, which is 35% more than the annual average over the previous five years. This data further implies that pharmacies are shouldering more of the administrative burden of responding to audits in addition to the task of pursuing a subsequent appeal where the PBM denies claims during an audit.
For over 35 years, Wachler & Associates has represented healthcare providers and suppliers nationwide in a variety of health law matters. If you or your healthcare entity has any questions pertaining to pharmacy audits or healthcare compliance, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney at 248-544-0888 or firstname.lastname@example.org.