SIGN THE BILL !!
By Edie Johnson
Flanked on each side by officials, fellow pharmacy owners, and encouraged by a gathering of about 50 Washingtonville area residents, Washingtonville Pharmacy owner Mark Freitis, addressed a rally to encourage Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign legislation they feel is urgent to restrict PBM monopolistic practices that are pushing many small local pharmacies out of business.
The very tight knit Washingtonville community feels strongly about the many small businesses that are the economic engine of their community. Many residents have known their shopkeepers since they were children, and know them as friends as well as proprietors. This matters even more when family health issues are involved and proprietors make sure to be on hand when there is an emergency issue.
This past year, they said that 70% of pharmacies in the US have reported having to lay off or cut hours of work of their employees. Two in our area (Baxters in Goshen and Montgomery Pharmacy) were forced to close.
The crux of the problem, Freitis said, is that “The lack of regulation is their source of their power. It’s a matter of patient access, choice, and patient care.” Pharmacist Louis Klein of the Medicine Chest in New Windsor has worked with this newspaper for over a year to help publicize the problems that they face.
With fears over rising costs of medical care for everyone, Assemblyman Schmitt said “All of the pharmacists, employees and patients standing here with us know how important this is. This is about access, quality care, and choice.”
As a new Senator in Albany and assigned to develop investigatory committees, this issue is one of the first topics that Senator Skoufis brought to the table. He and the other members drafted a set of regulatory controls to stop this monopolistic behavior, but the bill is still awaiting Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature. As such, it is one of the most far-reaching bi-partisan efforts we have seen in recent times. Freitis said “Skoufis is also a true advocate. He is considered a hero in my pharmacy.” Legislator Kathy Stegenga said that she was “Proud to be a co-sponsor. These companies are the backbone of our community. They are important not only for the people they serve, but our local economy.”
Pharmacy Benefit Managers program massive discount benefits to the operators of large discount pharmacy chains giving them, many say, an unfair advantage. The other main problem is their practice called “spread pricing”, where a medication that starts at a cost of $20 is only reimbursed at $15, and yet Medicare is charged $50. Where giant chain stores are involved they get product at greatly reduced prices to begin with. Meanwhile the small local pharmacy owner all too frequently ends the sale at a loss, and over time this means that they simply cannot compete.
Just how much do the locals, along with the Pharmacists Society of Orange County care about the issue? One resident from the Mountain Lodge community said matter-of-factly, “I would not be alive if it weren’t for Mark”. For 13 years, she said, she has not had to go back to the hospital because of Mark’s help and his constant checks of possible interactions between the 14 different medications she takes. She added that this is true for many of the other, often poor, residents in that Freitis does so much for.
“He kept us alive
and at a loss.”
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