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12-28-02: Pharmacists balk at Buckeye card; say they already offer discounts
This is the third in a series of stories on the high cost of prescription
drugs and how the state and local pharmacies are dealing with the problem.

The Daily Standard
    Local pharmacists are cool to the Golden Buckeye Drug Benefit Plan but worry their customers might bolt before learning the reasons for their hesitation to offer the discount.
    Most of those who talked to The Daily Standard are sure they can do as well as or better on drug discounts, without the hassle and expense of things like transmission fees and bureaucratic paperwork that come along with the Golden Buckeye plan.
    All four pharmacists contacted said their drug stores already offer discounts to senior citizens. Most give a 10 percent reduction.
    Linie Zumberge said his pharmacy, Schwieterman's in Coldwater, has offered a 10 percent discount to seniors since James Rhodes was governor of Ohio.
    He said the Ohio Department of Aging is talking about discounts in its Golden Buckeye publicity of up to 20 percent and beyond. He doe  not expect discounts to be that deep and said he knows rebates from the state will not cover that.
    "We do not purchase drugs at lower prices under this program," Zumberge said. "The discounts come out of the pharmacist's pocket."
    "We get up to 5 percent rebate from negotiated discounts under the plan. Over that, we have no control," he complained.
    Medicaid rebates millions but it now goes to the state to keep the program going, Zumberge said. He does not think it is good to bank on rebates paying much of the discounted prescription costs.
    This is an additional discount on a small profit margin, he said.
    Zumberge said his pharmacy will not fully participate in the program.
    "We hope that if the customer is paying  $21.95 for a prescription with the (Golden Buckeye) program or $21.95 without the program, it won't matter to them," he said.
    He believes his store's discount will be equally low in price < or at least very close.
    We are still a local pharmacy, with the kind of service that implies, he said.
    He objects to the state's pushing of mail order prescriptions,   which he says puts most local pharmacies in a difficult position.
    "We can't answer questions, because we would then have liability. We have to tell customers who have questions to call the mail order company," Zumberge says.
    "Why not go after the manufacturer?" he asks. "Why give hospitals such a deep discount? Why not charge everyone the same price?"
    Manufacturers do huge self-promotion of their drugs and they have an unbelievable lobby in Washington, bigger than all the automakers combined, Zumberge complained.
    Mark Dominik, the pharmacist and an owner at Schwieterman's Pharmacy in New Bremen, did a study of the Ohio Web site's explanation about the 50 most used drugs.
    He believes he matches the discount price of the list of top 10 drugs with his regular price and discount.
    "I may raise the discount a little to meet the average discount (which is a little under 13 percent), but I believe we can do as well or better. We are cutting out the middle man," Dominik said.
    He said he simply does not believe that the Golden Buckeye can save up to 40 percent in pharmacies.
    What the state ought to be doing is lean on the manufacturers, Dominik said.
    "When pharmacies sell the same drug in Canada or Mexico at one half our price, there's something wrong. We make this here," he said.
    Both Jerry Kaup at Kaup's Pharmacy in Fort Recovery and Tom Prenger of Bair Drugs in Celina say they give discounts to seniors on prescriptions and have for years.
    Prenger is not even sure if the store still participates in the earlier Golden Buckeye program, but he says he just automatically gives a discount if the customer's age or date of birth is on any of the claim forms or paperwork. He might ask as well, if he suspects someone would qualify.
    He knows pharmacies that give discounts get a little less in profits. Even insurance companies that provide coverage with a co-pay of $5 to $15 may not return to the pharmacist the full price of a $50 prescription.
     "Pharmacies ending up paying for it," Prenger said. "We take a hit on that, too."
    But he doesn't expect the Golden Buckeye program to be much worse than say the AARP discount card.
    "We will just get less money for doing more," he said.
    So Prenger has not decided yet how he will handle the Golden Buckeye Prescription Benefits Card when it starts showing up in local mailboxes at the end of January.
    "We have lost a lot of local pharmacies in the past few years," he said, ticking off Browns in Celina, Schumm's in Rockford and the pharmacy in St. Henry.
    "Who saves if we can't open up anymore?" he asks.


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