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Legislators file bill to require pharmacy benefit managers to be licensed in Arkansas

A pharmacy technician at Lyons Drug in Lonoke, Arkansas, measures out a prescription. The drug store says if it weren't for their mail-order business shipping drugs to nine different states, lowered reimbursement rates from pharmacy benefit managers would force them to close their doors. (Photo: KATV)

It's hitting independent pharmacies harder than the rest. Pharmacists claim pharmacy benefit managers are putting the squeeze on mom & pop drug stores with plummeting reimbursement rates.

Rick Pennington, pharmacist and owner of Lyons Drug in Lonoke, said he's been losing money on many of the prescriptions he's been filling due to pharmacy benefit managers or PBMs cutting back on the amount of money they're funneling from insurance providers to the pharmacists themselves.

If it wasn't for Pennington's mail-order business sending the generic erectile dysfunction pill, sildenafil, to nine different states, he claims he would likely be forced out of business.

"I mean it's over half of our profits," said Pennington. "If it was not for that, and we were just relying on our insurance patients, we definitely would have already laid people off and I don't know how much longer we could stay open."

Many Arkansas pharmacists claim they began to see their drug reimbursement rates begin to drop off at the beginning of the year, despite insurance companies being charged the same amount by their PBM's. Pennington claims drug stores like CVS, which are owned by the same company that runs CVS Caremark - a PBM - are being paid more and offer lower co-pays to patients who use their pharmacies.

The issue has caught the attention of State Senator Ronald Caldwell (R-Wynne). Caldwell, who is married to a pharmacist and has two brothers that are pharmacists, filed legislation late Monday to require PBMs to be licensed in the state and be regulated by the Arkansas Insurance Department.

"We passed a couple of laws three years ago and those laws are not being followed," said Caldwell in relation to how PBMs are supposed to operate in Arkansas. "So [the bill] would give someone such as a local pharmacist a place to reach out and have some oversight."

While Caldwell seems intent on passing PBM regulation legislation, Governor Asa Hutchinson told Talk Business and Politics that he'd prefer a private solution to the drug reimbursement rate controversy.

Caldwell said he spoke with Hutchinson on Tuesday and said he believes the Governor understands the seriousness of the reimbursement issue, but Hutchinson told Caldwell that he doesn't want to tackle the issue during the current fiscal session. Caldwell said he told Hutchinson that he wants to see the issue named for a special legislative session and claims to have put the Governor on notice that if he doesn't call for PBM regulation in a special session, that he's threatening to not pass the Governor's budget.

Last week, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announced her office is launching an investigation into CVS Caremark and other PBMs, looking into whether pharmacy benefit managers are breaking the state's deceptive trade practices law.

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