Lyons Drug Store owner Rick Pennington spoke about the impact of health care reimbursement changes to prescription drug prices to local pharmacies during the Lonoke Chamber of Commerce meeting on March 1.


According to Pennington, Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield has dropped the reimbursement program for pharmacies to at or below prescription cost. CVS Caremark is the benefits manager for Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which is the largest insurance provider in Arkansas.


“It dropped it so bad, I filled 350 prescriptions below actual cost,” Pennington said.


Pennington said state Attorney General Leslie Rutledge is currently investigating the matter to see if any deception has taken place by CVS Caremark. In addition, he said Gov. Asa Hutchinson has promised to call a special legislative session to address the pharmacy reimbursement issue.


“What we are looking for in the legislature is to control the pharmacy benefits managers,” Pennington said. “There are laws in Arkansas that prevents what’s happening. It’s against the law to reimburse us below cost, but there is no oversight. There is nobody enforcing the laws, so CVS and express scripts and others sort of just don’t pay attention because there is nobody to enforce these laws.”


Pennington said CVS and Caremark merged a few years ago. While Carmark is the benefits manager and CVS the pharmacy, Pennington said the biggest issue reimbursement cost to CVS Pharmacies are much higher than for independent pharmacies.


“There was a pharmacist that had his own prescription called into CVS Caremark,” Pennington said. “The total payment on the prescription was $118. The customer paid $10 and CVS paid $108. Another illegal part was he had never been to CVS before. They had no way of knowing what insurance he had, but before he got back to his store the prescription had been filled, billed to his insurance and it was online to see what his explanation of benefits were. Even though there is supposed to be a firewall between CVS and Caremark, there’s not. They are sharing information, not to mention they are trying to force you to go to CVS or mail order. But the prescription he called into CVS, he called CVS and had it reversed. He filled the prescription at his own store and he was reimbursed $4.84. The same prescription. Which is not only highly unethical and immoral, it’s also illegal, but they do it just because they can.”


According to Pennington at a recent press conference, Scott Pace executive vice president and chief executive officer of the Arkansas Pharmacists Association gave two larger prescription reimbursement comparisons. Pennington said that Pace compared an antipsychotic medication that local pharmacies were being reimbursed $28 and CVS was reimbursed $500. In addition, Pace compared a cancer medication where local pharmacies were reimbursed $900 and CVS $3,900.


“Scott had a list of over 270 drugs and of those 270, the average reimbursement difference was $63 per prescription, that they [CVS pharmacies] were being paid more,” Pennington said. “So what we are looking for in the legislative session is oversight of PBM’s, because somebody’s got to do it or they are going to take over all health care. We are asking that you call your local legislatures and ask them to support the bill.”


“Most of the time, when we’ve had this conversation and you’ve explained some of this stuff to me, you’re paying more for the drug than what you’re actually being reimbursed,” Matt Boyles said. “I think people need to know that. That you’re going in the hole. Your losing money.”


Also during the meeting, Rachel Tucker with the Arkansas Agriculture Department also spoke to members about two programs offered to promote locally grown produce. The two programs Tucker spoke about is the Arkansas Grown program and the Arkansas Made program.


The Arkansas Grown program helps to promote many agricultural products grown in Arkansas, such as plants or backyard produce and help to make a connection between the producer and consumer. The Arkansas Made program is used to promote products made in Arkansas, such as jams and soaps and helps to connect producers and consumers.


More information and a list of local producer information can be found at www.arkansasgrown.org.


The Lonoke Chamber of Commerce annual appreciation banquet will be held at 5:30 p.m. on April 21. Televising stars Mallorie and Jim Rasberry with Josh Nowell of HGTV’s Home Town will be the keynote speakers for the event. Table sponsorship and ticket reservations can be made at https://squareup.com/store/lonoke-area-chamber-of-commerce/item/banquet-tickets .


The next Lonoke Chamber of Commerce meeting will be noon on April 5 in the depot.