Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens continues to bestow political perks upon one of his benefactors, the St. Louis pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts. Ethics be darned.
On Monday, the governor named an Express Scripts vice president to the University of Missouri Board of Curators.
That followed his July executive order awarding Express Scripts a no-bid contract to fight opioid addiction.
Express Scripts Deputy General Counsel Julia Brncic might be a fine choice for curator. But her appointment is clouded by questions about political quid pro quos.
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Express Scripts paid $10,000 to Greitens’ inaugural fund, according to the company’s own disclosures of political contributions. The firm also made a $25,000 donation to Greitens’ campaign committee.
Those donations loom large in assessing why Greitens might have tapped Express Scripts to do an end-around the way every other state in the nation is tackling opioid addiction. Other states have launched programs that allow doctors and pharmacists to see a patient’s prescriptions to flag abuses and encourage treatment.
Greitens ignored that solid practice.
This deal calls for Express Scripts to use its data systems to flag overprescribing doctors or pharmacists. It’s a worthy goal. But the perception is that Express Scripts received a good rate of return for $35,000 in donations. The contract is reportedly worth $250,000.
The governor’s office has reacted incredulously to criticism, insisting that those who dare to connect the dots are being “ridiculous.”
Express Scripts is the nation’s largest manager of prescription drug benefits. They negotiate drug prices for insurers and employers, brokering discounts with drug manufacturers.
The role of such pharmacy benefit managers is often overlooked. But they are beginning to draw scrutiny as federal investigators look into the skyrocketing costs of prescription drugs.
Express Scripts has generated headlines lately.
Until April, Blue Cross-Blue Shield health insurer Anthem was Express Scripts’ biggest client, generating nearly 20 percent of its revenues. But Anthem said it will drop Express Scripts in 2019 when its contract runs out, and the insurer filed a $15 billion lawsuit against the firm, alleging that Express Scripts had cheated Anthem out of $3 billion in cost savings annually.
As an industry, prescription benefits managers are notoriously secretive about their business practices in making deals with drugmakers, which are generally covered by non-disclosure agreements.
The Missouri-based company’s role in the industry needs to be well understood. Unfortunately, Greitens’ apparent coziness with Express Scripts may complicate his administration’s efforts to fight opioid addiction and tackle other items on his agenda.
Greitens has shown a perpetual disregard for transparency and ethics, relying on dark money and swatting away questions about secret contributions that could influence his decisions.
The governor must change course before his inclination to keep constituents in the dark undermines any good intentions his administration might have to help Missourians.