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Protesters from across nation blast Connecticut-based Cigna on pharmacy policy

Insurance giant Cigna's headquarters in Bloomfield.
Brad Horrigan
Hartford Courant
Insurance giant Cigna's headquarters in Bloomfield.

Protesters from the nonprofit AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), headquartered in Los Angeles, chanted insults at health insurer Cigna in Bloomfield, Friday. They said Cigna’s pharmacy benefit manager, Express Scripts, is driving specialty pharmacies – including AHF’s own – out of its networks.

Calling Cigna “greedy,” the protesters said Express Scripts, acquired by Cigna in 2018, is driving pharmacy benefits to its own specialty mail-order pharmacy Accredo.

“They’re forcing more mom-and-pop pharmacies and specialty pharmacies like ours – the AIDS Healthcare Foundation – out of their network, because we can't afford to cover the cost of the drugs, because we're not getting reimbursed at a rate that is actually enabling us to do that,” said Rasheed Gonga, an organizer from New York.

Another protester, Timothy Webb from Atlanta, Georgia, said “so when you only can do mail orders, and don't give people choices to go to like Walmart or let's say a CVS or a Walgreens where you can get the prescription maybe at $3 instead of paying $15, you know, those little dollars make a big difference to poor and marginalized communities.”

AHF claims to be the largest provider of HIV medical care in the world, and its AHF Pharmacy, a not-for-profit provider, claims that 96 cents out of every dollar earned go back into providing services to patients.

Cigna said in a statement to Connecticut Public that it rejects AHF’s “baseless allegations,” and that the AHF pharmacy did not perform to certain metrics in its contractual agreements with Express Scripts. The foundation says Express Scripts so-called metrics are essentially “pay to play” schemes.

AHF contends that Cigna’s Express Scripts pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) and rivals CVS Caremark and OptumRx — which control 75% of the U.S. market — have disproportionately impacted access to care for those living with critical illnesses by adding arbitrary penalties and fees to small, independent pharmacies. This has left many patients not having their medicines covered at their chosen pharmacy, or falling out of care.

“Our David and Goliath battle between independent and smaller pharmacies and PBMs continues with these Cigna protests in Bloomfield and around [the] country this week,” said Tracy Jones, national director for Grassroots Mobilization Initiatives for AHF. “Cigna’s actions rob specialty and independent pharmacies that many patients depend on, preventing those pharmacies from providing the lifesaving medicines and services patients need.”

Cigna pointed to recent increases in reimbursements to support independent pharmacies in rural areas.

Sujata Srinivasan is Connecticut Public Radio’s senior health reporter. Prior to that, she was a senior producer for Where We Live, a newsroom editor, and from 2010-2014, a business reporter for the station.