Pharmacies too valuable to mess with

Published 8:07am Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thousands of locally owned pharmacies dot rural Alabama towns. Even in Selma, small pharmacies have a prominent presence in the local economy.

But locally owned pharmacies aren’t simply a tax-revenue generator; they also provide a service that large operations are unable to mimic.

How many chain pharmacies can claim a personal relationship with customers?

Probably none.

Unfortunately, a distant relationship with your pharmacist may become a common occurrence if Gov. Robert Bentley chooses Walmart as the primary Medicaid prescription provider in Alabama.

The chain store is one of three companies that previously presented to the Medicaid Pharmacy Study Commission. Walmart is proposing all residents within a 10-mile radius purchase Medicaid prescriptions from its stores.

But it’s not all bad news. Those living outside of the radius could still use a local drug store. Though, the local stores would still have to contract with Walmart.

An agreement with the chain store would likely hurt profits at locally owned pharmacies and end friendly relationships. How can a pharmacist who sees 200 or more customers per day be expected to offer the same service as a locally owned pharmacy?

They can’t and they won’t.

Fortunately, Tim Williamson, co-owner of Carter Drug, shares my sentiments. Williamson said an agreement with Walmart could limit profits for local pharmacies, such as Carter Drug.

Perhaps Walmart isn’t the right fit for Alabama. After all, two other groups are also in the running. More will present at the commissions meeting Thursday.

The other groups that previously presented are a pharmacy benefit management group and the Alabama Pharmacy Association.

Benefit management groups are a third-party administrator of prescription drug programs, but have been criticized for placing profit over client interests. In fact, some pharmacy benefit management groups are in lawsuits because of their actions.

The groups allegedly charge a significantly higher amount to customers than retailers charge.

Bentley is looking to save money. The state’s Medicaid costs have increased from 25 percent of the state’s general fund to 36 percent — approximately $615 million.

Saving money is important. Government should operate in an efficient manner.

But instead of focusing solely on saving money, the commission should also consider how a decision would impact local business and Alabama residents.

A decision that hurts locally owned pharmacies could also hurt small towns and cities in a number of ways, ways we probably don’t realize until those pains are felt.

Bentley will have the final say on what plan is chosen. It’s important his decision reflects the interests of the people he represents.


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