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Gov. Josh Shapiro wants to help struggling independent pharmacies

Shapiro working to stop pharmacies from closing up
Shapiro working to stop pharmacies from closing up 03:54

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro said he wants to help struggling independent pharmacies across the state. 

More than 307 independent pharmacies have closed nationwide in the past three months. In an interview with KDKA-TV's Meghan Schiller, Shapiro said forcing transparency is the first logical step.

Tucked to the side of Spring Garden Avenue, Waltmire Pharmacy is the last independent pharmacy standing. 

"We're landlocked over here, where in the North Side there's one pharmacy left," owner Fred DiPasquale said. "There's us and Giant Eagle, which is down on the other side of the North Side. And there used to be four pharmacies here years ago."

He stands at his counter all day, mostly filing generic prescriptions because he can't afford to fill much else. He said the reimbursement contracts from the pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) are bad, but turning them down means losing the majority of your customers. 

"We didn't push back enough, and people continue to take that contract. So, now they rolled it out to Medicare Part D this year, which is a huge part of our business. We can't turn that contract down because it's 40 percent of our business. But then again, we can't fill all the prescriptions because we're losing."

He just bought $37,000 worth of 110 brand-name drugs and sold them all. He lost $248. He makes more money selling iced tea.

"We probably sell 100 gallons of milk a week and over 200 gallons of iced tea a week and chips and stuff," DiPasquale said.

He'll keep his stacks of greeting cards and holiday decorations and the community fax machine, fighting to stay until the very end.

KDKA-TV took DiPasquale's concerns straight to Shapiro.

"The fact that 30 independent, small ma and pa pharmacies have shut down just this year alone is absolutely unacceptable," Shapiro said.

He said it's now harder for people to get the medicine they need to stay healthy. He's directed his insurance commissioner to push back on the PBMs to better protect independent pharmacies. 

"I've tried to sound the alarm on this issue," Shapiro said. "In fact, raised it during my budget address and called on lawmakers to do something about it, to curtail the profits these PBMs can make, to stop letting them dictate to us what drugs we should have access to and what they should cost. I need lawmakers' help to address this. We don't have the legal authority to do it."

He's aware of state Rep. Jessica Benham's bill, and a few others, rattling around and said he's waiting for something to make it to his desk.   

"Now is the time to rein in these PBMs and stop them from making the ridiculous profits they're making, and instead make these drugs available for the people that need them most in our communities," Shapiro said. 

Some communities are seeing all of their pharmacies close, forcing people to drive one-hour round trip to pick up some medications. So, the problem with people only having one option, or none at all, means people will just not get their medications.

That leads to people getting sicker and winding up in the emergency room, and that all falls back on the taxpayers.

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