Bill eyes insurers, mail-order pharmacies

New York State Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in

New York State Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in Lynbrook. (June 30, 2011) Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

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ALBANY - Lawmakers, advocates and pharmacists Tuesday called on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to sign a bill that would stop health insurers from requiring that their customers use mail-order pharmacies.

While proponents say consumers should have the option of filling prescriptions at a local pharmacy at the same price as mail-order pharmacies, opponents say mail-order companies provide savings that are passed on to consumers and employers. Both sides claim to provide better and more convenient service.

"Those who want to use their local pharmacists, who know their history, who have an intimate relationship with their patients and can do better service, if that's the choice they want, then people should have that choice," Assemb. Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), a bill sponsor, said at a news conference in Albany.

The bill, which would still allow people to use mail-order pharmacies to fill prescriptions, was passed in the legislature in June but has not yet been sent to the governor. Cuomo's office did not respond to calls for comment Tuesday.

The Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, which lobbies for mail-order pharmacies including Medco and Express Scripts, wants Cuomo to veto the bill, saying it would increase costs for consumers and businesses. "In this economy, employers need every cost-saving tool they can get, and mail-service pharmacy is at the very top of that list," said PCMA spokesman Charles Cote.

"Home delivery is enormously popular with patients because it offers them lower-cost 90-day prescriptions for their long-term chronic medications." Cote said mail-order pharmacies save money through bulk purchases and that the bill would hurt small businesses.

But Ray Macioci, president of the New York City Pharmacists Society, said the business has changed, with more of the most widely prescribed drugs now available as generics. "We are willing to charge the same price and charge the same co-pay for medication, 90-day supplies included [as mail-order pharmacies do]," he said.

Earlier this month, the Federal Trade Commission wrote that the plan would likely raise drug prices for consumers.

Restricting health plans from negotiating lower prices with mail-order pharmacies would reduce local pharmacies' incentive to compete on price, it said.

"Although the bill attempts to provide consumers with a choice among available pharmacy providers, it may have the unintended consequences of curtailing prescription drug coverage and increasing out-of-pocket payments," the FTC wrote.

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