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Garrett honored for continued scholarship

Monday, April 7, 2008  
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By Alison Roberts

Vice President for Academic Affairs, Allison Garrett, received notification recently that she and a co-author earned an award from the American Society for Pharmacy Law. The Society will award the Larry M. Simonseier Award to Garrett and her co-author, Robert Garis, Director of the Non-Traditional Doctor of Pharmacy Program, School of Pharmacy and Health Professions at Creighton University, for their article entitled, "Leveling the Playing Field in the Pharmacy Benefit Management Industry" at the mid-year meeting in November.

"It is a very nice honor and we were very pleased to receive it," Garrett said.

As the article's title suggests, the content deals with the rapidly-growing prescription drug industry.

"The article is about a particular segment of the pharmaceutical industry," Garrett said. "There are several entities in the U.S. that are called pharmacy benefit managers."

According to Garrett these PBMs serve as intermediaries between various organizations involved in the prescription drug industry.

"Within the pharmaceutical industry you have three main groups of players. You have the pharmaceutical manufacturers, companies like Merck or Pfizer that manufacture drugs," Garrett said. "You have retail pharmacies, places like Walgreens, CVS or Wal-Mart where you might go to get your prescriptions filled and then you have health plans which pay for the prescriptions for most of us."

The role of the PBM in all of this, Garrett said, is to create channels of communication and payment between the organizations that are otherwise removed from one another.

Their article calls for a greater level of transparency in the PBM area.

"Because these three other groups, health plans, retailers and manufacturers don't deal with each other but instead just deal with the PBM, none of them really know how much money the PBMs make off of them," Garrett said.

"You don't really know whether you're overpaying for the services that they provide."

Garrett suggested the increasing cost of healthcare might even be attributable in part to PBMs.

"Within the healthcare industry we've seen a lot of increases in pricing over the last several years," Garrett said. "The pharmaceutical pricing has gone up much faster than the rest of pricing in the healthcare industry and we're sort of making a case that these pharmacy benefit managers are responsible for that and then making recommendations about how to ensure greater transparency and greater fairness in the pharmacy benefit management industry."

According to Garrett, she first became interested in PBMs when she served as the Vice President for Benefits at Wal-Mart's international headquarters.

"I had responsibility for a number of Wal-Mart's employee benefits, one of which was the pharmacy plan," Garrett said. "As the executive in charge of the pharmacy plan, part of my job was to negotiate with our PBM, so I developed a real interest in how these fiscal intermediaries worked and how health plans could get the best deal possible to keep prices lower for our employees."

Initially, Garrett said she was able to use her knowledge of the industry to create the article, but when her expertise ran out, she contacted Garis.

"There was some technical knowledge that I didn't have. I called the one academic in the nation who has really studied pharmacy benefit managers in detail," Garrett said. "He and I were talking and we had a lot of the same ideas about how pharmacy benefit managers were working and things that could be changed about the industry to make it fairer."

Officially, the team will receive their award, which includes a $2000 cash prize, at the November society meeting in Las Vegas. This will also be the first opportunity for the co-authors to meet face-to-face.

Garrett, who has published many other scholarly articles, said she encourages scholarship among faculty at Oklahoma Christian University.

"The idea behind completing scholarship or research is that it helps you stay on top of things in your profession and makes you a better teacher," Garrett said. "We have tremendous faculty here and several professors here are engaged in wonderful research within their disciplines and in publishing articles and books."

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