Independent pharmacies across Arkansas have been in financial jeopardy since the beginning of the year. In turn, those pharmacies say the patients they serve have suffered.
Thanks to a new bill signed into law on Thursday, Arkansans will once again be able to get the care they need from the pharmacists they trust.
The last time we spoke to pharmacy owner, Dr. Jim Graham, he was not happy. Back in February, he said he was not being fully reimbursed for the prescriptions he was filling.
Today, Governor Hutchinson signed a bill into law to level the playing field for him and all the other independent pharmacies out there.
Since January 1, 2018, pharmacy benefit managers, or PBM’s have been hurting Dr. Jim Graham’s business.
“They are making profits hand over fist and they are doing it on the back of independent pharmacies,” Dr. Graham said.
PBM’s act as middle men between insurance companies, employers and state agencies. They have dictated the price for the prescriptions pharmacist’s fill.
“They’ve got enough loop holes in the law that say we’ll pay you whatever we think the price of the drug should be,” Dr. Graham said.
That means patients across the state would often scramble to find an alternative pharmacy to get the drugs they need.
“The only choice these pharmacies had was to either lose a lot of money and go out of business or turn away the customers,” Dr. Graham said.
“When the pharmacy is challenged by that, it creates a process where patients struggle to get medications,” said Representative Justin Boyd, a Republican from District 77.
We reached out to CVS Caremark, one of the main pharmacy benefits managers in the state, and the one who Dr. Graham deals with often. We have yet to hear back.
“This is an area that became evident that we needed additional oversight if we were going to do privately funded plans this way,” Representative Boyd said.
A new bill, signed into law Thursday, changes things. Now, an insurance commissioner will oversee the industry and the fair practices among the groups. And each PBM will be licensed, offering a greater level of transparency.
“It will allow me to talk to my patients and say, hey, the price you are being charged by your insurance company is too high,” Dr. Graham said.
For a pharmacist known for making home visits to his patients, it gives him a chance to expand the level of service his customers expect from him.
“You got to have some rules, or else big monopolies will destroy you. And that’s all we’re asking for. Free trade, in the end,” Dr. Graham said.