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Already, just days into the fiscal session of the Arkansas Legislature, Governor Asa Hutchinson is about to call a three-day Special Session, sometime this spring, promising to fix a problem that could derail his budget.

It did not take the pharmacists of Arkansas long to loudly cry out over the Jan. 1 cuts to Medicaid reimbursement of drugs for those on Medicaid in our state.

The cuts, from Blue Cross and Blue Shield, are so severe that free-standing, small town pharmacies were being squeezed out of being able to fill the drug needs and financially survive.

Remember, Mr. and Mrs. Voter, the small town pharmacy is likely owned by a local person; a civic club member, a tax-payer just like you. We are not talking about some corporate giant in the drug store business like a Costco, Walmart, CVS or Walgreens, with ways to off-set the reimbursement cuts to an elderly person's prescription reimbursement from Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans.

If anything should rile up the rank and file Arkansan, it would be the predatory practices of Blue Cross and Blue Shield and its pharmacy benefit managers, and the deepness of these cuts to granny's blood pressure drugs.

In rural Arkansas, a free-standing drug store is just about as important to local commerce, as say the hardware store, the local bank, the neighborhood grocery store or any other small business.

The pharmacist, a trained and licensed professional, is also a business man or business woman. They, too, have to make a living, albeit a small one, but not succumb to the take-it-or-leave-it reimbursement from a corporate bean counter far away from the Main Street Drug Store location.

Two of the stalwarts in filing identical bills pointing out this problem and appealing to the Governor to do something are both Republicans.

Both are well respected members of their GOP party and generally sane and well respected by their Democratic colleagues as well.

The two are, state Senator Ronald Caldwell of Wynne and state House of Representative Michelle Gray of Melbourne.

In light of full disclosure, state Senator Caldwell and I have been personal friends for almost 40 years. I first met, Caldwell when he was a former lumber company manager for an instate firm for many years before returning to his home town and buying a lumber/construction company there and later selling his business. He is married to a very fine lady, Brenda Caldwell, who is a pharmacist, who has worked on the rural retail side as well as a rural hospital pharmacy director.

Sen. Caldwell is, without fail, one of the most honorable, fair, and honest men in the General Assembly. He serves quietly, effectively and as a Republican, does not let the Party rule his politics.

I am faintly acquainted with Rep. Gray of Melbourne. She is the chief financial officer of the Gray Family Medical Practice in Melbourne. In other words she is married to a doctor.

So both of these legislators have their eyes opened to the real problem with these deep, deep cuts in Medicaid prescription reimbursement.

Both solons know that, Caldwell and Gray know that drugs are expensive. Both also know that the local rural pharmacist cannot dispense drugs that cost him or her more than the reimbursement actually pays the pharmacy under the plan.

The legislature is getting pressure from rural, independent pharmacists in the state to reign in these prescription benefit managers and provide an equitable cost sharing in filling these Medicaid prescriptions.

No one wants to see skyrocketing drug costs -- yet we do in this nation.

No one wants to see Medicaid recipients having to make decisions of their health care based on the cost of these drugs.

Everyone should want for Gov. Asa Hutchinson to call a Special Session -- shortly after the fiscal session, to fix this problem.

Call it quickly Governor, before this becomes a problem with your budget in the fiscal session.

Small town pharmacists and their Main Street free-standing pharmacies need your help in being reimbursed, fairly, for prescriptions of those Arkansas citizens on Medicaid.

• • •

Maylon Rice is a former journalist who worked for several northwest Arkansas publications. He can be reached via email at maylontrice@yahoo.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

Editorial on 02/28/2018

Print Headline: Legislature must quickly fix snags in pharmacy issue

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