Pharmacists turn to lawmakers after reimbursement changes hit

(Source: KAIT-TV)
(Source: KAIT-TV)

BROOKLAND, AR (KAIT) - Local pharmacies are being hit hard by new reimbursement rates.

Earlier this week, pharmacists took their frustrations to state lawmakers and insurance representatives.

But many left that meeting with unanswered questions, including Michael Barkley, who owns the Pharmacy at Brookland.

It's the only pharmacy in the Craighead County town.

He said these troubles started on January 1, 2018, when the amount that insurance companies reimburse pharmacies abruptly changed.

This specifically affected plans in the Arkansas Works Program, which is something many of Barkley's patients fall under.

"Particularly in a pharmacy like mine, I'm somewhat rural," Barkley said. "I have low-income family and patients here, that some of them don't even have transportation."

Barkley said he is losing money on prescriptions.

For example, Barkley said an average reimbursement of $10 over drug cost turned into a four-dollar loss.

Under Arkansas law, pharmacies have the option of refusing to fill a prescription that is not reimbursed at least at cost or to take the loss and appeal to those insurance companies.

But for Barkley, it's not about the money, it's about his patients that he can no longer afford to help.

"You have people that depend on their pharmacist," Barkley said. "And I'm having to turn my back on them in a sense because I can't afford to do anything else."

Because Arkansas Works is a federal Medicaid expansion program, it's funded through tax dollars.

And Barkley said the money is still there, it's just getting lost in the process.

"It's got to be fixed and it's got to be fixed immediately, not six months from now, not a year," Barkley said. "We can not sustain this."

When a pharmacy fills a prescription, the insurance company pays a pharmacy benefits manager a certain price per drug.

The benefits managers reimburse pharmacies a certain percentage of the original cost.

But, because of the change, the percentage has gotten smaller, and Barkley wants to know where the rest of that money is going.

Several pharmacists gathered for a hearing at the Capitol in Little Rock about the issue, where insurance companies left many of their questions unanswered.

Barkley said another hearing is expected sometime next week, and he will be in attendance again seeking answers.

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