chamber of commerce

Rite-Aid and Community Pharmacies climb aboard Maine's Rx Plus program
Wednesday, February 11, 2004
By Marie Howard - PISCATAQUIS COUNTY - There was some good news last week for Maine Rx Plus card holders residing in Piscataquis County, and elsewhere. Pharmacies that declined to honor the new Rx Plus card, have recently announced they will do so, but some with reduced hours at some locations.

From day one of the launching of the new Rx Plus drug card program by the state, Harris Drug Store in Greenville was the only pharmacy in Piscataquis County that was honoring the Rx card.

However, last week Rite-Aid pharmacies and Community Pharmacies signed on with the program, with some trimming of hours.

Nonetheless, Wal-Mart pharmacies are still not accepting the Rx Plus card at any of their Maine locations a spokesperson from the Palmyra store reported Friday. "This is a corporate decision," he said.

The nine Rite-Aid pharmacies in Maine, except those located at Guilford and Dover-Foxcroft, will have reduced hours, or be closed Sundays.

In Guilford, the Rite-Aid pharmacy is retaining its current hours which are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays.

The Rite-Aid pharmacy at Dover-Foxcroft will also retain its current hours a spokesperson said there Friday. The pharmacy hours there are from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

However, Rite-Aid pharmacies at the Dexter and Milo stores will be closed all day Sundays, along with pharmacies located in Rite-Aid stores in Fort Fairfield, Van Buren, Lisbon and Oakland. Pharmacies in Rite-Aid stores at Augusta and Bar Harbor, already closed Sundays, will also be closed all day on Saturdays. A Rite-Aid spokesperson has reported that the reductions will not result in job losses.

Community Pharmacies, a Maine-owned group of 15 retail pharmacies with stores from Madawaska to Saco, also recently signed on with the Rx Plus program but began reducing store hours to "restore company finances," James Clair, spokesperson for the chain said Friday. Clair said the most drastic cut in services will be at the Community Pharmacy at the Dover-Foxcroft location. During the weekdays, the pharmacy will remain open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. It formerly remained open until 8.p.m. Saturday hours remain the same at 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays the pharmacy will be open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. It used to remain open Sundays until 5 p.m.

Clair cited reasons for the cutbacks. "That the new MaineCare reimbursement rate, implemented by the state, lowers by 15.4 percent the payments pharmacies receive when asked to fill brand-name drugs for their Medicaid customers. With Medicaid making up approximately 40 percent of its business, Community Pharmacies had no choice but to immediately reduce expenses to get things back in balance," Clair said.

Clair continued. "We have taken extraordinary measures to minimize the impact on our customers but we are now forced to roll out an expense reduction strategy that includes reducing store hours, laying off and reducing work hours for our staff, dropping delivery services in certain locations, ending the practice of customer charge accounts, and stopping specialty packing of drugs."

Nonetheless, the Community Pharmacy located in the Hannaford store at Dexter is retaining its current hours which are 8 a.m to 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. On Saturdays the pharmacy will be open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The pharmacy will remain closed Sundays in keeping with its original schedule.

Pharmacies purchase drugs from distributors, negotiating a discount off the averaged wholesale price (AWP) of each drug. When the state's Medicaid office pays for a participant's medication, the pharmacy is paid a percentage of the AWP plus a dispensing fee.

Before recent cuts, each Medicaid prescription was reimbursed at AWP, minus 13 percent, plus a $3.35 dispensing fee. Originally, cuts proposed would have dropped reimbursement to AWP minus 15 percent plus a $1.60 dispensing fee. However, pressure from pharmacy groups convinced the state to restore the original formula except for name brand medications, which will be reimbursed at AWP minus 15 percent, plus the $3.35 dispensing fee.

Trish Reily , who heads up Gov. John Baldacci's office of health and finance has noted that the state has been forced to make difficult decisions in the Medicaid program in order to balance the budget.

She also noted that many drugstores throughout Maine are not cutting hours of operation or employees in response to the reductions.
"This content originally appeared as a copyrighted article in the Moosehead Messenger and is used here with permission."

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