Thursday, March 2, 2006

New regulations hurting pharmacies


CBS national news visited the historic square in Holly Springs Friday to hear business owner Bob Lomenick tell a story familiar to small-town, home-owned pharmacies.

Tyson Drug Co. and others like it are facing extreme difficulties due to the new Medicare D guidelines. The regulations went into effect January 1.

“The Clarion-Ledger ran a story, and then CBS called me,” Lomenick said. “Mom and pop pharmacies are struggling. It’s the same story across the nation. If the funds don’t start coming in, we will be cutting hours, cutting staff, whatever.”

Lomenick even said one of the traditions at his almost 100-year-old pharmacy, the old-fashioned soda fountain with hand-dipped ice cream, may be in jeopardy during the financial crunch.

“Who knows what’s going to happen?” he said.

The majority of Lomenick’s patients were on Medicaid, but they were automatically transferred to Medicare. Medicaid paid the pharmacies weekly. Under the new guidelines, the contract says the pharmacies will be paid every 30 days, “take it or leave it,” he said.

But Tyson Drug Co. has not received several hundred thousand dollars due it since January 1. He said the insurance companies, the Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs), are getting paid immediately, but they’re holding the pharmacies’ funds.

“Other pharmacists are calling me, too,” said Lomenick, chairman of the board of the Mississippi Independent Pharmacists Association. “Pharmacists who have been in business longer than me are not sure if they’re going to make it. They want to see if the association can do anything to help.

“The PBMs did a snow job on the government, and the pharmacies are not getting paid. It’s a corporate deal, and they’ve got us. Prescription drug costs are rising faster than anything in healthcare.”

The CBS piece is scheduled to air this week.

Lomenick gave newsman, Jim Acosta of Atlanta, Ga., examples of hometown service from small town pharmacies – like the night last week when one of his customers called because one of their children had a terrible ear ache and the medication was delivered that night, or the older customer who told Lomenick after church that he was out of blood pressure medicine and that prescription was taken care of immediately on Sunday.

“These people aren’t just customers, they’re our friends,” Lomenick said.

The CBS crew even interviewed one customer in the store who told a similar story. When the delivery boy brought her medication in the recent sleet and snow, he also carried her a milk shake, emptied her garbage and got her mail.

“Y’all can’t imagine what they (Tyson Drug Co.) do for our community,” Lomenick said the lady told the national newsman.

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