At the 90-year-old Coker-Hampton Drug Company in downtown Stuttgart, the pharmacist and owner of the last 25 years, James Bethea, is deeply concerned about the reimbursement rates from Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) he believes are putting small pharmacies at risk of losing their businesses.
Bethea has chosen to continue to fill prescriptions even though a recent law in Arkansas allows pharmacists to refuse a sale if it meant that they would lose money due to reimbursement rates being lower than the price of the product.
“Those are our customers, and we’re going to take care of them,” he said.
Regulations being considered by the state legislature in a special session beginning Tuesday would allow for oversight of such managers (PBMs) who act as middlemen between insurers and pharmacies.
According to Scott Pace of the Arkansas Pharmacists Association, the industry has been unregulated for too long and has now led to managers negotiating favorable reimbursement rates for the stores their company's own (such as CVS) for common prescriptions such as Tamiflu.
“They turn around and compete with their own retail and mail-order pharmacies to try to steal the patient away from local providers,” he said.
Pace noted that some managers have allegedly sent letters to independent pharmacies suggesting that, if times are tough, it may be time to consider selling the business.
Supporters of the middlemen said their companies serve their purposes in helping to negotiate with drug manufacturers to keep prices down for everyone.
“The pharmacy benefit managers are one of the tools that exist in the toolbox to help manage the cost so that we can get people the medications they need but also do it in a way that doesn’t break the bank,” said state Rep. Charlie Collins (R-Fayetteville).
Rhode Island-based CVS Caremark, which is the pharmacy benefit manager subsidiary of the CVS pharmacy chain, said the proposed legislation in Arkansas would eliminate those who negotiate lower prescription drug costs.
“These potential PBM regulations directly interfere in the contracts between [managers] and their clients, negatively impacting the ability to effectively manage a pharmacy benefit in the state," wrote Christine Cramer, senior director of corporate communications, in an email. "While they may benefit independent pharmacies, these proposed regulations would increase costs for Arkansas consumers as well as payers in the state.”
If the special session of the legislature decides to pass the legislation, regulation of pharmacy benefit managers would begin on Sept. 1.
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