SPRINGFIELD – A new program designed to help sustain rural, independent pharmacies appears to be stalled by the governor’s administration, and three state lawmakers want to know why.

In a letter to Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services Director Patricia Bellock dated Sept. 10, State Senators Andy Manar and Heather Steans and State Representative Greg Harris requested a timeline for implementing the critical access pharmacy program.

“Independent pharmacies all over Illinois are being forced out of business because of state policies and unfair competition,” said State Senator Andy Manar, a Bunker Hill Democrat who has called for more transparency in the relationship among pharmacy benefit managers, managed care organizations and the state of Illinois. He helped ensure money for the critical access pharmacy program was included in the FY19 state budget.

“Rural residents in particular are being put at a disadvantage,” he continued. “Not only are independent pharmacies a local health care resource in rural and remote locations, they’re also employers that are now being stamped out with the use of state tax dollars. I don’t know anyone who wants their tax money used in that way.”

Money for the program – $10 million – was included in the bipartisan FY19 state budget, which Gov. Bruce Rauner signed in early June. The money is for payments to independent pharmacies that are struggling because of the state’s Medicaid managed care rollout and pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs.

The financial crisis local pharmacies are facing has intensified since April 1, when the Rauner administration expanded the Medicaid managed care program to every county in Illinois. Adding to the pressure are rate cuts administered by pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs.

The result is that local pharmacies have seen drastic cuts in what they are reimbursed for filling Medicaid prescriptions. In many cases they are losing money on the prescriptions they fill.

“Gov. Rauner must either implement the program the General Assembly passed to assist local pharmacies that are at risk of closing, or else explain why he continues not to act,” said Steans, chair of one of the Senate’s two appropriations committees. “A local pharmacy does more than merely serve customers. For people who lack transportation or live with limited mobility, it can mean the difference between comfort and hardship.”

Several independent pharmacies around the state have closed and numerous others are imperiled because of spread pricing and the relationship between PBMs and the managed care program.

In central Illinois, the owner of Sav-Mor pharmacy closed his locations in Mount Pulaski and Mount Zion in late July, and Stacy’s Family Pharmacy in Lincoln closed in August.

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