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PBMs, the Brokers Who Control Drug Prices, Finally Get Washington’s Attention

For two decades, patients and physicians eagerly awaited a lower-cost version of the world’s bestselling drug, Humira, while its maker, AbbVie, fought off potential competitors by building a wall of more than 250 patents around it.

When the first Humira biosimilar — essentially a generic version — finally hit the market in January, it came with an unpleasant surprise. The biosimilar’s maker, Amgen, launched two versions of the drug, which treats a host of conditions including rheumatoid arthritis. They were identical in every way but this: One was priced at about $1,600 for a two-week supply, 55% off Humira’s list price. But the other was priced at around $3,300, only about 5% off. And OptumRx, one of three powerhouse brokers that determine which drugs Americans get, recommended option No. 2: the more expensive version.


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