New bill aims to help independent pharmacies to band together, negotiate prices for Rxs

KINGSTON, Pa. — Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., on Monday propositioned a bill that would allow independent drug stores to band together in an effort to increase their collective pharmaceutical buying power.

“It’s not a level playing field,” Marino asserted as he announced the introduction of HR 1946, the Preserving Our Hometown Independent Pharmacies Act. “This bill sets out to level that playing field, that’s all,” he said. “It would not cost the federal government or anyone else a penny. As a matter of fact, it would actually lower the prices for independent pharmacies, … and they, in turn, would pass it on to the consumer.”

The bill would amend antitrust law to allow independent pharmacies to band together and negotiate prices for prescription medicine. It also would give them more leverage when they negotiate reimbursement rates with insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers.

“This vital legislation will help … local pharmacists and small business owners by making three important changes,” stated Douglas Hoey, EVP and CEO of the National Community Pharmacists Association, which supports the bill. “First, it levels the playing field for independent community pharmacies negotiating contracts with billion-dollar corporations, giving them leverage similar to those of large, national pharmacy chains; second, it allows millions of Americans to enjoy the fruits of greater competition and choice of pharmacy, including independent community pharmacies; and third, it supports local jobs, tax revenue and small businesses by keeping in the community healthcare dollars that could otherwise be siphoned out of state by large corporations.”

Hoey pointed to the kind of negotiating clout Walgreens wielded on Tuesday in its decision to discontinue talks with pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts. Losing almost 8,000 points of service carries greater consequences than losing a handful of participating pharmacies. “For years, small pharmacies have had to endure one-sided, take-it-or-leave-it contracts that can disadvantage community pharmacists with onerous contract terms while impeding true competition for consumers,” Hoey said. “By contrast, large pharmacy chains have a greater ability to negotiate contracts, as evidenced by Walgreens’ recent decision to opt out of the network of Express Scripts.”

Lawmakers who have signed on as co-sponsors include Reps. Lou Barletta, R-Pa.; Howard Coble, R-N.C.; Renee Ellmers, R-N.C.; Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb.; Louie Gohmert, R-Texas; and Ron Paul, R-Texas.

On Monday, Rep. Marino said he has experienced the personal service offered by neighborhood pharmacies. The congressman is a two-time cancer survivor, and his 16-year-old daughter, Chloe, has cystic fibrosis. “My daughter takes a great deal of medication on a daily basis,” Marino said. “My pharmacist is always there. He knows us on a first-name basis. There have been situations when we have gone away and either forgotten or ran out of a prescription. We just call our pharmacist, he makes the arrangements and we are taken care of wherever we are.”

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