Saline County residents were shocked by the news on August 17, 2023 that Smith-Caldwell Drugstore – a legend in the business – had suddenly closed their doors and sold to Walgreens. Many customers took to social media, blaming the owners of the historical independent pharmacy. But according to recent testimony from Arkansas pharmacists, Smith-Caldwell had no choice.
Sonny Albarado writes in Arkansas Advocate that Arkansas pharmacists including one at Benton’s Westside Pharmacy, told a legislative panel on Tuesday about slow and low drug reimbursements, asking with the consolidation in the industry that threatens their existence.
“The marketplace as a whole is dying by a hundred slashes,” pharmacy owner Blake Torres told the Legislature’s Joint Performance Review Committee. “We’re pleading with you for help… Another [pharmacy] in my county is in severe jeopardy, and they might not have six months.”
Watch the video at this link, beginning at 11:09 to see the testimony and questions between Torres, Senator Kim Hammer and others.
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The committee also heard from Betsy Tuberville, owner of Camden Drug in Camden, and John Vinson, CEO of the Arkansas Pharmacists Association.
State laws regulate middlemen known as pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), but pharmacists say they keep getting lowballed on the reimbursement rate, in addition to payment taking too long – as much as 2 months. They say independent pharmacies have few options due to a near monopoly of three PBMs controlling more than 70% of the pharmacy drug market. One legislator noted that the system also has conflicts of interest, because PBMs are also in the mail-order pharmacy and insurance business.
The committee heard nearly two hours of testimony and questions, then voted to continue the discussion at the September 13th meeting. They expect to hear from a pharmacy benefits manager at that meeting.
Read more detail of the meeting at https://arkansasadvocate.com/briefs/arkansas-lawmakers-learn-about-conditions-squeezing-states-independent-pharmacists/.