Dispatch wins national award for prescription-drug reporting

1.04.2019 Carlene Cox Awards

The Dispatch Side Effects series on the cost of prescription drugs is being honored with a national award.

The National Institute of Healthcare Management Foundation announced Friday that the on-going series won the foundation’s 25th annual Print Journalism Award. Among the finalists were The New York Times, The Washington Post and others.

“The competition for our print journalism awards this year was among the most intense we’ve seen in our 25-year history, and we commend the winners and all the finalists for their powerful reporting,” foundation CEO Nancy Chockley said in a statement.

The year-long Dispatch series examines how pharmacy benefit managers such as CVS Caremark, OptumRx and Express Scripts, use opaque pricing and rebate practices to bill more than they’re paying many pharmacies that dispense the drugs.

The reporting also has shown how CVS cut reimbursements to independent pharmacists and then offered to buy their stores. In addition, the series has examined “patient steering.” For example, pharmacy benefit managers in some instances have forced cancer and AIDS patients to stop obtaining their complex medications from their local clinics and instead require them to get medicine from the PBMs’ own mail-order pharmacies despite problems with the practice.

As the series unfolded, the Ohio legislature began work on several law changes to address issues revealed in the series, multiple other states launched their own investigations and Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost initiated what he says was the first of what he expects will be several lawsuits.

At the same time, the Trump administration has set a priority of creating transparency in the prescription-drug supply chain, particularly around the functions of pharmacy benefit managers.

Details revealed in the stories also have been cited as concerns by groups such as the American Medical Association in their efforts to stop the merger of the CVS pharmacy chain and Aetna, the insurance company.

Dispatch reporters Catherine Candisky, Marty Schladen and Lucas Sullivan have worked on the project with Public Affairs Editor Darrel Rowland, along with many other members of the Dispatch staff. Web producer Rachel Kilroy created and maintains the website and worked with Sullivan to create and maintain an online drug-price look-up tool that allows consumers to check baseline prices of prescription drugs.

The award will be presented on May 13 in Washington, D.C.

“This award has become probably the most prestigious award you can win for health care journalism,” said John Carreyrou, a Wall Street Journal reporter who has won the award and who served on this year’s selection panel.

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