The nation’s largest health insurer is expanding a program that passes rebates from drugmakers directly to the people that use their medications.

Beginning next year, all new employer-sponsored health plan customers that use UnitedHealthcare must give the discounts they get to consumers at the point of sale, the insurer said Tuesday.

Pharmacy benefit managers typically negotiate rebates from pharmaceutical companies to help offset the high initial prices set for many drugs. But those discounts rarely flow directly to the people filling prescriptions.

Instead, they are often passed on to companies that sponsor employee insurance plans and are used to reduce premiums or offset other plan costs.

But those high list prices can hurt the patients buying the medications because what they have to pay for the drug out of pocket is based on that initial list price, not the after-rebate cost.

UnitedHealthcare said about a year ago that rebates would start shifting directly to the customer filling prescriptions for people covered by employer-sponsored health coverage that is fully insured. That’s generally small employers. The insurer said that the initial program lowered drug costs by an average of $130 per prescription.

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