Prescription drug volume increased 5.7 percent during the first quarter, according to Fitch Ratings which noted more active pharmacy benefit managers the people who make a lot of the calls for health plan sponsors and members.
The ratings agency said a large portion of the increase came from Express Scripts Inc. and its $4.68 billion buyout of WellPoint Inc.'s NextRx unit in 2009. Medco Health Solutions Inc. also contributed to the volume increase.
The dispensing rates for pharmacy benefit managers were stronger than the rates for retail stores, Fitch said. CVS Caremark Corp. operates retail stores, but also has a pharmacy benefits management unit. Other retail store operators include Rite Aid Corp. and Walgreen Co.
Meanwhile, the agency said margin pressure from health care reform will likely not have a significant impact on the credit in the industry. Fitch expects pharmacy benefit managers to maintain good cash flow because of volume increases, despite a weak employment environment.
Shares of Express Scripts, based in St. Louis, rose $1.81 to $100.94 while shares of Medco, based in Franklin Lakes, N.J., rose $1.80, or 3.3 percent, to $56.90. Meanwhile, shares of CVS, based in Woonsocket, R.I., rose 13 cents to $34.20.