Is Medicare Killing Your Local Pharmacy?

wyatt andrews
wyatt andrews

Don Walden owns the Medical Arts Pharmacy in Columbus, Mississippi, one of those small town, side of the road drug stores where they sell prescription drugs, CBS News correspondent Wyatt Andrews reports.

But Walden may have to sell this business and lay off his 10 employees. And the blame, he says, goes to Medicare part D, the new drug benefit for senior citizens.

"It's put me in a situation where my life's earnings have gone right out the window," Walden says.

This year, as Walden dispensed prescription after prescription, Medicare part D, at least indirectly, was dispensing with most of his profit.

Walden says the problem is that seniors get Medicare coverage through private insurance companies, which in turn, have lowered the fees and reimbursements they pay him.

"What they don't realize is they are putting us all out of business," Walden says.

That's not one of Walden's jokes. Gone this year is the old Taylor Drug Store in tiny Granville Ohio. There is no more Centenniel Merit Drugs in Monte Vista Colorado. When Randy Spainhour closed down Penslow's pharmacy in Holly Ridge North Carolina, he mailed his license back blaming, the "low reimbursement of Medicare."

A lot of these small town pharmacists are selling to the big chains, like Walgreens or Rite Aide, which typically offer to hire the pharmacist to work for them. This isn't illegal. The chains say they're just helping small businesses in trouble. The chains want Walden to sell too, but he doesn't describe that as help.

"They know I'm in trouble," Walden says.

For customers, the cost of their prescriptions should stay about the same, but what changes is the convenience. Walgreens might be 20 miles away. Hattie Burgin, who doesn't own a car, says she'd miss Walden's place.

"I just feel loved when I come in here," she says.

So what Wal-Mart once did to rural downtowns, Medicare is doing to the rural drug store. Walden figures he'll keep going for just a few more months, and go non-stop for those last few smiles.

"You know I am so broke I can't pay attention," he says.