Local News

Pharmacy Surcharges May be a Tough Pill to Swallow

Posted April 20, 1999 7:00 a.m. EDT

— State lawmakers are considering two bills which would allow pharmacies to charge more for prescriptions. This cost would be in addition to the co-payment, which consumers are already paying.

Supporters of the measure, especially small pharmacies, say the surcharge is crucial for their survival. Opponents say it will unfairly penalize the elderly and people with low incomes.

"I talked with a lady just the other day who takes nine pills in the morning, six at noon time and four in the evening," says Thelma Lennon,N.C. AARPpresident.

Sarah Guichard, 83, takes eight separate medications a month. She has an $8 co-payment; her total monthly cost is $64. She says paying any more would be a hardship.

"This bill would do serious harm to the working families, the elderly and the poor," saysRep. Connie Wilson, R-Mecklenburg County. "It has the potential to take tens of millions of dollars from the many and put it in the hands of a few."

Independent retail pharmacies say they need the legislation because they cannot survive on what insurance companies, especially HMOs, pay them. They are concerned that if the cycle continues, they will be forced out of business.

At the Hayes Barton Pharmacy, the personal touch is the prescription pharmacists use to keep customers coming back.

"A person comes in for a cold remedy, you need to know what kind of prescriptions they're taking before you can give them advice," says Tim White, pharmacy president.

After 70 years in business, the managed care contracts are making it tough for this small independent pharmacy to make ends meet.

"It will drive us out of business," says White. "We cannot operate on the margins that they're allowing in their contracts."

Thelma Lennon, who represents 860,000 retired North Carolinians says the bills are a prescription for disaster.

"If this bill passes, some of these people will be paying much more out of their pockets, money they don't have," says Lennon.

House Bill 1277 and Senate Bill 937 put no cap on what pharmacists could charge. But pharmacists say competition dictates they only charge, at the most, a few dollars more than what the customers are currently paying.