Medco CEO Unrepentant
For Ethical Lapses

May 6, 2004

Chairman, President and Chief Executive
Medco Health Solutions
Franklin Lakes, N.J.


Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania Strategic Management

Medco Health Solutions, the largest pharmacy benefits management company in the United States, last week settled lawsuits brought by state and federal authorities by agreeing to stop switching patients over to more expensive drugs not prescribed by their doctors (these drugs were favored by Medco because of private “rebate” agreements with drug manufacturers). Medco also pledged to begin disclosing its rebate practices to employers, doctors and patients.


The American Heritage Dictionary

rebate: A deduction from an amount to be paid or a return of part of an amount given in payment.

kickback: A return of a percentage of a sum of money already received, typically as a result of pressure, coercion, or a secret agreement.


A strong case can be made that private rebates not fully disclosed are, in fact, kickbacks. Some may consider this to be a nitpicking, semantic argument. But what should alarm us all is that Medco’s Snow trivializes their abusive practices, for which they are being punished, by suggesting that the patients and employers who were cheated actually benefited because the kickbacks were really only rebates (with disclosure issues regarding the nefarious substitution of higher cost drugs for lower cost drugs).

David Snow should be issuing a public apology for the egregious abuses of his company. Instead he releases a statement implying that the only blame lies with others who use the pejorative term, “kickback,” when Medco was actually following sound business practices through the rebate program.

This seemingly trivial dispute has major policy implications. The Medicare bill prohibits the government from being the direct purchaser of drugs, but instead requires that middlemen, such as pharmacy benefit managers like Medco, maintain control of the pharmaceutical benefit. Not only do they add middlemen administrative costs, but they also expose us to the compromised ethics of unrepentant executives who believe that kickbacks awarded for making lucrative drug substitutions are actually good business practices since, really, they’re only “rebates.”

"Our current national health care system is simple: don't get sick." - Anonymous


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