Bill would give help to pharmacies

Published May 31, 2007

TAMPA - Behind a pane of glass at Carrollwood Pharmacy, employees compounded medicines and counted pills. In the store, customers chatted in line and picked up prescriptions.

U. S. Rep. Kathy Castor squeezed into the store, worried it could all disappear.

"There is just no substitute for your community pharmacist, " said Castor, who held a news conference Wednesday to discuss Medicare Part D's effect on local pharmacies.

The federal program, started in 2006, covers prescription drug costs for Medicare recipients through private insurance plans.

There is no requirement for companies to quickly repay pharmacies for the cost of medications. Castor called that "disastrous for our seniors and our community pharmacists."

Local pharmacists joined Castor on Wednesday. They said often 40 days pass before they are reimbursed for the cost of their medications, sending their businesses into debt.

"All of us had to take out loans when it first began last year, " said Carrollwood Pharmacy manager Dan Fucarino. "More and more pharmacies will close."

Castor is supporting a federal bill that would force insurers to speed up payment to pharmacies. The bill also seeks to remove the names of chain pharmacies from plan cards, a feature some independent pharmacists say drives away customers and hurts business.

"Right now, we are highly indebted to the banks, " said Leke Alli, manager of Bearss Pharmacy in North Tampa.

Darele Campbell, manager of College Hill Pharmacy on N 22nd Street, said she has seen her income sliced in half since last year. Her customers, many of whom are poor, are "really dependent on us, " she said.

Castor has high hopes for the bill, which is pending in Congress.

"It's only fair, " she said. "There's no other business that is subject to the whims of the big HMOs. If you provide a service and you provide goods, you deserve to be paid in a timely manner."

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at 813 269-5303 or shayes@sptimes.com.