Express Scripts’ clients, including employers, have seen minimal disruption since Walgreens left its network earlier this month, says Brian Henry, ESI’s senior director of public affairs. In this Q&A, he sits down with EBN to discuss what efforts the company has made to make the transition easier since Walgreens announced last June it would be leaving.

EBN: How are you moving forward without Walgreens in your network?

Henry: In June, as you know, Walgreens said it was unilaterally going to withdraw from our network in January. As readers of Employee Benefit News will know, the pharmacy benefit is the one that’s used the most by employees. Clearly, our job as a pharmacy benefit manager is to make sure our members and clients understand the options they have in front of them. So, since Walgreens announced in June they would leave our network, we’ve been working with our clients and our members ever since then to let them know about other options they have available to them that are just as convenient and lower cost. We can say, definitively, that the overwhelming majority of our members have moved on without Walgreens. The majority has made the switch and people have successfully moved on to other pharmacies that are ready, willing and able to serve our members.

EBN: How have clients, employers in particular, reacted? What are you hearing from employers about this?

Henry: The feedback we’ve had has been positive; that they understand that Walgreens’ rates and terms would make it a higher cost provider compared to other pharmacy providers in our network for providing essentially the same thing. As a client that looks at the benefits they offer to employees, they want to make sure they’re providing the highest quality pharmacy benefit at the lowest cost. Our job as a pharmacy benefit manager is to negotiate with pharmacies, pharmaceutical manufacturers to make sure medicines are affordable.

Ninety-five percent of our prescription volume moves forward into next year without Walgreens. And we’re hearing it’s minimum disruption, which is consistent with what we would expect because if you look at our book of business, less than two out of 10 members use Walgreens at all. Even less than that go to Walgreens exclusively.

And as we’ve said all along, we would welcome Walgreens in our network. We would. And we’ve said that since June. But it’s only at rates and terms that are right for our clients. And at their current rates and terms, Walgreens would be much more expensive than other pharmacies in our network for doing the same thing and that’s not something our clients are interested in.

EBN: Walgreens has said 120 clients have already left, an assertion ESI disputes. Can you explain why?

Henry: I won’t speak to that number because we honestly don’t know where that number comes from. About one-half of 1% of our 2,200 clients has a contractual right to negotiate with a provider. There have been a few that have worked with us and Walgreens to include Walgreens in their network. Those are primarily health plans. We work to come up with solutions for our clients and that was something those clients felt they needed so we worked to do that. But overwhelmingly the bulk of our clients have moved on without them. So, I don’t know where that figure that they come up with comes from, but I do know we’ve had a handful — and by handful I mean low, single digits — that have either contracted to have Walgreens in the network or have moved on to another PBM because of the Walgreens situation. We’ve seen minimal client impact.

EBN: What else do you want our readers to know about this situation?

Henry: Making sure there’s a robust, affordable benefit that’s available to employees is important. And our role as a pharmacy benefit manager is as critical now as it’s ever been. Our job is to make sure that that pharmacy benefit — which is the most widely used and most popular of the benefits — is being utilized in a cost-effective way and that’s what we’re doing. We are meeting all of our client obligations, or exceeding them, for access. There are certain access obligations that we have to meet and we are meeting them even without Walgreens in the network. There’s over 56,000 pharmacies that we offer nationwide for our members. We’ve found member disruption is minimal, the options they have are plentiful and people have made the switch easily.

Related content:

EBN exclusive: Walgreens president discusses company’s future without Express Scripts

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