PCMA’s “Seven Figure” Ad Campaign with PBM-to-PBC Rebrand is Ironically Transparent in Motive

PCMA’s attempts to rebrand PBMs are the equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig

One of the most remarkable aspects of last week’s U.S. Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee hearing, (ICYMI: “Bringing Transparency and Accountability to Pharmacy Benefit Managers,”) was the number of committee members on both sides of the aisle who demonstrated a keen understanding of the PBM business model — and a deep concern/disdain for the impact that business model has had on patients; community pharmacies; prescription drug costs; and reasonable, safe access to medication.

For years PBMs thrived on invisibility and secrecy, easily avoiding accountability for the disastrous and expensive results of their revenue schemes. Last week’s hearing, which included multiple references to S.127, Senators Grassley and Cantwell’s “Pharmacy Benefit Manager Transparency Act”, is evidence of a turning tide of awareness and public opinion on whether the presence of prescription drug middlemen adds any real value to patients or payers.

Now, in the wake of that hearing and several other high profile threats to the PBM industry, PCMA has announced the launch of a “seven figure advertising campaign … to educate policy makers and the public…” basically to rehabilitate their image, put forward policies that will protect their profiteering empire and continue to shift blame and accountability to anyone but themselves. Oh, and they’re trying out a little name change too.

PCMA is lately floating pharmacy benefit companies (PBCs) instead of pharmacy benefit managers, making (once again unsubstantiated) claims that “PBCs” are responsible for good things including unicorns and rainbows for certain categories of patients, while somehow not changing “PBMs” to “PBCs” on their website and other advertising materials. It’s so sloppy and inconsistent it’s hard to know if they’re taking their own 7-figure campaign seriously.

Top brand consultants advise their clients to be introspective when it comes to brand rehabilitation. Rebranding is a deeply reflective process that incorporates the organization’s goals, purpose, customers, stakeholders and legacy. If done well, rebranding can restore trust and rebuild burned bridges — but only if the organization has done the real, unflinching work to understand what caused the need to rebrand itself in the first place.

So, it’s both silly and a little insulting to see PCMA announce a new campaign, make vague brags about how much they’re spending while inconsistently introducing a rebrand into the public conversation. As if somehow spending a million dollars on social media and television advertising will magically erase the sins of the past that now even the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives can recite like industry pros.

PCMA, no one is fooled by this gesture or how much you plan to invest in it. But we all know how transparent your motives are, and it doesn’t get more ironic than that.

Yours in Advocacy,

Monique Whitney, PUTT Executive Director

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Pharmacists United for Truth & Transparency

PUTT is a nonprofit organization dedicated to advocating on behalf of independent pharmacy & fighting against PBM anti-competitive business tactics. TruthRx.org