Diplomat: Second PBM acquisition in 2 weeks signals shift to ‘disruptive’ approach

Diplomat Pharmacy is continuing its growth and diving head-first into the pharmacy benefits management business with its plan to acquire Leehar Distributors, which does business as LDI Integrated Pharmacy Services. The acquisition of LDI marks Diplomat’s second PBM acquisition this month, having acquired National Pharmaceutical Services on Nov. 6. 

The Flint, Mich.-based independent specialty pharmacy will pay $515 million in cash and $80 million in common stock for the St. Louis-based PBM, with the deal expected to close in the next 30 to 60 days. 

Diplomat officials said that with a portfolio that includes both NPS’ proprietary claims processing platform and LDI’s offerings — which include URAC-accredited mail-order and specialty pharmacies, as well as a national network of retail pharmacies and clinical programs — the company can offer payers access to a single platform that lets them manage the high-cost and quickly growing area of pharmacy benefits.

"With 90 percent of traditional medications now filled as generics, it's specialty pharmacy costs that are driving pharmacy spend for payers,” Diplomat president Joel Saban said. “To offer real solutions to today's challenges, a new model with a diverse set of assets is needed. The need for specialty benefit management solutions has never been more urgent.”

Indeed, in a conference call about the acquisition, Diplomat chairman and CEO Phil Hagerman said that while he expected Diplomat to eventually get into the PBM space, the confluence of a changing market and some headwinds to growth made now the right time to get into a business that could help control costs.

“We believe that the market dynamics have shifted such that cost containment is critical to the marketplace today and really the only way to totally optimize all the levers around cost containment is to be able to work symbiotically and seamlessly across the PBM, the specialty pharmacy and specialty infusion space,” Hagerman. “We now have the ability to do that, and we now have the runways to continue to grow our business in the specialty pharmacy and specialty infusion space but also, as we continue to bring more lives on board, be able to affect the market pace for the clients that want a disruptive and aggressive change model.”

The acquisitions will allow Diplomat to meet the needs of small and midsize insurers, as well as third-party administrators and self-insured organizations, officials said. The combination of NPS and LPI means that the integrated PBM platform will offer transparent and traditional pricing, as well as an owned adjudication platform, a comprehensive network, direct manufacturer rebates and high-touch services, the company said. Saban also noted that Diplomat's access to roughly 100 limited-distribution drugs adds enhanced services for LDI's client base. 

“Authority to distribute these drugs requires extensive data collection and monitoring capabilities, proven patient support programs, and strong relationships with pharmaceutical manufacturers—all strengths of Diplomat,” Saban said.

Hagerman noted that in order to delve into the PBM space, the company needed leadership in place that knew how to navigate both sides of the business — and said that the acquisitions only add to its executive team’s expertise.

“We put the pieces together for this long before we bought NPS, and those pieces included the executive management team,” he said. “We went deep into the PBM space to people that had both PBM and specialty pharmacy experience with deep, deep roots — and that’s what frankly gave us the confidence and desire to put the two resources together. … This is an incredible opportunity for Diplomat to leapfrog ahead as a larger healthcare company and a much broader base to continue to grow from moving forward into the future.”

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