Independent community pharmacists are among the most capable and readily accessible providers of essential healthcare services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even though over 90% of Americans live within five miles of a community pharmacy, we are being overlooked in the news media and by policy makers and being squeezed out of business by a greedy group of corporate middlemen.
Our pharmacies are open and here to serve the community. We provide more than just medications. In normal times and especially in a time of crisis, we are one of the first sources of critical and accurate information and support. My staff and I are continuing to take this crisis full on, we are certainly not running away from it.
But, our ability to deliver personal, professional care is under attack, because our ability to make even a small profit on prescriptions is being siphoned off by a group of middlemen known as pharmacy benefit manager corporations or PBMs.
Buddy Carter, U.S. Representative for Georgia, is a trained pharmacist. He is a strong voice for community and independent pharmacies in Washington, D.C., and says, "Without support from the community, and in particular from legislators who must step in and fix the PBM problem, community pharmacies will struggle to keep the doors open. We can't allow this to happen. We must make sure we do not lose the irreplaceable care, guidance and reassurance they give patients."
According to a report published this year by a top pharmacy industry analyst, "DlR pharmacy fees (direct and indirect remuneration paid to PBMs) overall have skyrocketed by 1,600% in the last five years, totaling 58.58 since 2013."
In response to the report by XIL Consulting, B. Douglas Hoey, a pharmacist and National Community Pharmacy Association CEO, said, "It should be shocking to state and federal lawmakers and regulators that pharmacy benefit manager corporations are using a government loophole to squeeze billions of dollars in fees from pharmacies, that those fees are driving up the cost of prescription drugs for patients, and that the sickest people in the country are subsidizing insurance premiums."
Citing 2017 as an example, the report shows PBMs squeezed over $4 billion out of pharmacies which, according to a recent NCPA survey, is why 58% of local pharmacists are not sure they can survive the next two years.
Now more than ever, it is vital for everyone to not forget about their community pharmacy. Given a fair chance, we will keep fighting on the front lines of the COVID crisis and for the future of the communities we serve. We need the support of our patients, our communities, the press and government now more than ever.
Stephen L. Giroux is president and CEO of the community pharmacies in Middleport, Depew, Medina, Oakfield, Hilton, Niagara Falls, North Tonawanda and Lockport.