By Carol Porter
On Wednesday, Feb. 19, the advocacy group Small Business Pharmacies Aligned for Reform (SPAR) hosted a press conference at My Community Pharmacy in Wellington regarding pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) and their effect on pharmaceutical pricing.
Speakers at the event outlined what they called “shady” practices in the PBM industry that aims to put independent pharmacies, such as My Community Pharmacy, out of business.
The pharmacy is located at 2615 S. State Road 7 near Whole Food Market in Wellington, owned by Johnny Meier, one of the speakers at the event. In attendance with Meier were other local, independent pharmacists, customers and Wellington Mayor Anne Gerwig.
Several speakers addressed the problems involving pharmacy benefit managers — middlemen who are supposed to negotiate savings for customers — and complained that they do not, in practice, benefit either the pharmacists or their customers.
The pharmacists addressed several bills under consideration in the Florida Legislature, including a bill that would put kiosks in front of pharmacies for customers to use.
The SPAR group, in particular, is supporting the passage of SB 1444 and HB 961, which would regulate the how PBMs operate.
Pharmacists in attendance addressed attacks on their profession, suggesting that they feel that the Florida Legislature had singled out their profession to be dismantled. The local pharmacists stressed their presence and support for the local community, and how many of the national and regional chain pharmacies do not offer the unique kind of customer service that they do.
Gerwig said she was there to support Meier, a local businessman who she noted has been deeply involved in the community. She said that Tallahassee has a long history of being intrusive in local government and sending down too many unfunded mandates to local government.
“Tallahassee seems to think they have the right way to do everything,” Gerwig said.
Meier agreed, adding that many politicians in Tallahassee do not always understand the full impact of what they are doing, and that many elected officials do not talk to “the little guy,” and instead only hear from representatives of the big chains.
Meier explained how he opened his small drugstore 11 years ago to serve the Wellington area with a much-needed service.
Pharmacist Scott Claypoole, another independent pharmacy owner, said he wasn’t completely against chain pharmacies, noting that they have their uses, but that local pharmacies provide a vital service. He added that drug costs have gone through the ceiling and were impacting local pharmacies.
“We fill a vital need in this community,” Claypoole said. “If you know Johnny, some of his patients have his phone number. If you go to Walgreens or CVS, they don’t.”
Pharmacist Amar Patel said he is a store owner, and it is hard for him to stay in business, and that many small pharmacies are just like him — a “mom-and-pop business” with a deep impact on the local community.
Longtime Wellington resident and veteran Henry Tocci said that while Walgreens and CVS are fine, small pharmacies like My Community Pharmacy serve a real need in the community. “Why do I come here?” Tocci said. “I get personal service.”
Learn about the mission and goals of SPAR at www.sparfl.com.