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Beechko: Mail-order pharmacies don't help Suffolk County

Requiring county employees to use out-of-state mail-order firms,

Requiring county employees to use out-of-state mail-order firms, instead of local pharmacies, for their maintenance medications is unlikely to save the County money. Photo Credit: Bluestocking

Saving money is on the mind of many nowadays, particularly the Suffolk County executive.

But a coming shift to force county employees to use out-of-state mail-order firms, instead of local pharmacies, for their maintenance medications is unlikely to save them money.

Union members, whose families Long Island drugstores have served for generations, have been telling us they fear losing the convenience, guidance and personal service they get from their local neighborhood pharmacies when they deal with an "800" phone number.

California-based OptumRx, the mail-order prescription factory that Suffolk County is set to begin contracting with for maintenance prescriptions of more than 21-day supplies, does not pay taxes to New York or to Suffolk. We need to keep businesses, jobs and tax dollars here if we are to keep the county viable.

But this is more than a romantic appeal to protect local businesses and jobs.

Suffolk County is relying on promises of $17 million in annual savings, built on unsupportable guarantees by OptumRx, that resist allowing those who buy insurance to learn if they are getting a good deal.

When pharmacy benefit management companies like OptumRx offer discounts of up to 60 percent on commonly prescribed drugs, they don't mention that the discount is based on a price far above what the drugs really cost -- especially now that generics make up more than 80 percent of prescriptions.

In fact, many New York unions, school districts and municipalities that have switched back from mandatory mail order, restoring choice, have found savings, depending on the size of the group, from tens of thousands to tens of millions of dollars a year.

In 2011, the AMMO -- Anti Mandatory Mail Order -- bill was passed and signed into law by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to guarantee patients the right to choose where they fill their prescriptions. Unfortunately, that law exempted plans connected to union contracts.

We are asking the county executive to seek some very important answers. How is the county saving money? What are the proffered discounts based on? Will OptumRx open its books and be transparent? Is the county getting what it is paying for?

We are asking that the county provide the same fairness to union members that is afforded to private insurance patients and Medicaid patients: the right to use the pharmacy of their choice.

We would welcome the opportunity to sit down with the Suffolk County executive to show him that we can match mail-order firms on costs to the county and the union, and match the mail-order firms on co-pays charged to union members. We know these firms can't match us on the service we provide to patients who stand before us.

Joanne Hoffman Beechko is the president of the Long Island Pharmacists Society.