Blue Cross looks to switch pharmacy services

Posted August 3, 2011 4:48 p.m. EDT
Updated August 3, 2011 6:29 p.m. EDT

— The state's largest insurer said Wednesday that it plans to switch to a new company to handle prescription drug benefits for its 3.7 million members.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is negotiating a contract with Prime Therapeutics, which is owned by various nonprofit Blue Cross plans and their affiliates. A new contract would make the North Carolina Blue Cross part owner of the company, which serves 17 million customers nationwide.

“Being more hands-on with our (pharmacy benefits manager) will help us lower costs and provide better service to our customers,” Blue Cross President and Chief Executive Brad Wilson said in a statement. “We also will be able to work with other nonprofit Blues on (accepted drug lists), improved information and communications to customers and programs that integrate pharmacy and disease management programs to improve health.”

Blue Cross has used Medco Health Solutions Inc. to handle prescriptions for more than a decade, but the insurer said its spending on drugs has soared by 157 percent since 2005, to $1.7 billion in 12 months ending in May.

It's unclear when the change to Prime Therapeutics might occur, but Blue Cross said Medco would continue to serve the insurer's Medicare Part D members.

Medco, which last month agreed to be purchased by rival Express Scripts for $29.1 billion, has lost several major customers in recent months. Industry observers say Blue Cross is Medco's sixth-largest customer, but the company said in a statement that the insurer accounts for less than 1 percent of its annual earnings.