Data Shows Americans Hold Similar Views of Drugmakers, PBMs

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Drugmakers have pointed to pharmacy benefit managers as a force behind rising drug prices in the U.S., but Americans don’t appear to have a gloomier view of one industry group over the other, according to Morning Consult Brand Intelligence data.

U.S. adults don’t have significantly higher favorability rates for certain pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies as opposed to pharmacies, suppliers and pharmacy benefit managers, according to surveys of more than 22,000 American adults from October to March.

For companies in both categories, companies with higher brand identification have higher positive favorability, meaning that better-known drug companies are likely to have higher approval ratings.

For example, New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson has the highest brand identification among companies tracked by Morning Consult, with 97 percent of adults being aware of the company, and 72 percent of adults having a favorable view of the manufacturer. From the other side, AbbVie, a relatively new spinoff of Abbott Laboratories, is known by 33 percent of respondents and has 80 percent neutral favorability, while Gilead’s brand identification is 39 percent, with 76 percent of Americans holding a neutral view of the pharmaceutical company.

Pfizer and Bristol-Myers Squibb appear to be more controversial. Pfizer, which called off an attempted $160 billion takeover of Allergan last year after the Treasury Department altered a rule around so-called tax inversions, has an 86 percent brand identification, with a 35 percent positive favorability and a 28 percent negative favorability, the highest among pharmaceutical brands tracked. And 79 percent of people have heard of pharma company Bristol-Myers Squibb, which has 38 percent positive favorability and an 18 percent negative favorability.

But every pharmaceutical company tracked has a higher positive favorability than negative favorability, despite some companies coming under fire in recent years for the rising prices of prescription drugs. A June 2015 Kaiser Family Foundation poll found 77 percent of Americans said pharmaceutical profits were a major factor contributing to drug prices, while a Kaiser poll in September found a similar percentage said the drug costs were unreasonable. On the other hand, 73 percent of people currently taking a prescription drug told Kaiser affording their treatment is easy.

In recent months, some pharmaceutical executives have sought to shift the blame for rising drug costs to pharmacy benefit managers and other middlemen.

Mylan CEO Heather Bresch, who was scrutinized last year for the high price of EpiPens, told CNBC in January that the country’s pharmaceutical distribution system enables different entities to make a profit off such treatments, and greater use of high-deductible insurance plans has also shifted more costs to patients. A Gilead Sciences executive told Bloomberg last week that the company can’t lower the cost of its hepatitis C treatments because pharmacy benefit managers wouldn’t cover them.

PBMs, who serve as a middleman between employers and health plans and drugmakers, say they help lower drug costs for consumers. The Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, a trade group representing PBMs, touts that they will save payers and patients an estimated $250 billion over the next 10 years.

Three large pharmacies – Walgreens, CVS Health and Rite Aid – all have brand identification ratings above 90 percent, and positive favorability ratings of 79 percent, 68 percent and 64 percent, respectively, according to the Morning Consult data. Some pharmacies partner with specific PBMs: Walgreens announced a partnership with Prime Therapeutics last year and CVS works with CVS Caremark.

Express Scripts, one of the larger pharmacy benefit managers in the U.S., is known among 57 percent of Americans, and 29 percent view it favorably; another 61 percent have a neutral view of the firm. Its negative favorability – 10 percent – is similar to ratings for other pharmacies.


Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the date for the first Kaiser Foundation poll. It was conducted in June 2015.

Morning Consult