Lawmakers working on pharmacy bill after I-Team report

Florida House stays out of Medicaid debate so far

TAMPA, Fla. - Medicaid patients and small pharmacy owners are fighting in Tallahassee to do away with restrictions on where prescriptions can be filled.

In January, the ABC Action News I-Team showed how patients in Florida are being forced to abandon the drug stores they've been using for years. As a result, some of those pharmacies are on the cusp of closing.

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Now state lawmakers are considering a bill to let people choose their own pharmacy, instead of being forced to go to the big chain drug stores. The Senate version has passed two committees, but supporters of the bill say they're struggling to gain traction in the House.

Manjit Matharoo, who owns two pharmacies in the Tampa Bay area, says he is losing $25,000 a month at each of his stores because Medicaid contractors are pushing enrollees to the big chains.

"If this keeps happening," Matharoo told the I-Team. "I'm sure we'll have to close our doors."

The situation is hitting patients, too.

"It's been a nightmare," said Jill Rand, who recently got a letter ordering her to switch from a pharmacy she has used for 11 years to a drug store chain. "My pharmacy was more than a pharmacy to me. And I miss it. I miss it bad."

Bill Mincy, national chair of a group called Pharmacy Choice and Access, says more than 250 small pharmacies had to shut down last year.

"In certain situations, it may have been the sole factor," Mincy said. "In other times, it was a contributing factor."

Mincy recently met in Tampa with 50 pharmacy owners, who all say their business is in jeopardy if something doesn't change.

"Many of them, very emotional, tears in their eyes about the investment they had made," Mincy said.

Since the I-Team's January report, according to Mincy, two companies that administer Medicaid plans in Florida have opened up coverage and given small pharmacies a chance to compete. But that's not a permanent fix, since plan administrators could change their mind any time they want.

That's why Senate Bill 670 and House Bill 625 are so important to small pharmacies and their loyal customers.

If the bills pass, Mincy says small pharmacies will meet the same terms, conditions and prices as their bigger competitors. Yet, he adds, big health care providers and the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration are against the bills.

The I-Team reached out to AHCA for comment, they did not respond to several phone calls and emails.

Jarrod Holbrook is an Emmy and AP Award-winning Investigative Reporter for the ABC Action News I-Team. Do you have a story idea? Contact Jarrod on Facebook, Twitter, or via email at jarrod.holbrook@wfts.com.

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