By John Kaliabakos
Hundreds of community pharmacists and patient advocates from across New York protested at Governor Cuomo’s State of the State address in Albany. The protest was in response to Cuomo’s recent veto of legislation that would have kept rising prescription drug prices in check, protected doctors’ freedom to prescribe medications that are best for their patients, and ensured that New Yorkers would remain free to visit the pharmacies of their choice.
The bill that Governor Cuomo vetoed (S6531/A2836) was supported by doctors, pharmacists, patient advocates, labor unions and lawmakers. In June, it passed unanimously in the assembly and with overwhelming support in the senate. It was opposed by three Fortune 25 companies (CVS Caremark, Optum Rx, and Express Scripts) and the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association (PCMA), a special interest group based in Washington, D.C. that represents PBMs (pharmacy benefit managers).
As attendees entered the State of the State address at The Egg in Albany, community pharmacists in white lab coats passed out prescription pill bottles filled with messages opposing the veto and highlighting the impact the governor’s veto will have on New Yorkers. “Without this critical legislation, PBMs will continue to steal money from taxpayers, destroy community pharmacies, and restrict patients’ access to life-saving medications. While the governor purports to turn every stone to address the budget deficit, PBMs stole more than $300 million from taxpayers in just one year; and until they are truly regulated, New York will have to pay for PBM greed,” said Steve Moore, president of the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York. “Abusive practices of pharmacy benefit managers are having devastating effects on the affordability of, and access to, pharmaceutical care. Patients have experienced the forceful removal of coverage for their trusted pharmacists and are aware of the gag clauses that PBMs placed in the contracts with our pharmacists that kept them from telling their patients that the costs of medications could be affordable if they didn’t use their insurance, as the copay was higher than the cash price. PBMs showed no concern for the patients who walked away, empty-handed, unable to pay the inflated costs. Now they want patients and taxpayers to trust them and believe that they have our best interests in mind. That’s not how trust works,” said Loretta Boesing, founder of Unite for Safe Medications, a nonprofit organization.
Boesing continued, “It’s past time for those who have been elected to office to step up for the patients, taxpayers, and constituents whose voices were wrongfully silenced by the veto of this legislation. PBMs are not adding value or saving money, but destroying America’s pharmaceutical care.”
The Albany protest was organized by FixRx, a campaign by the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York (PSSNY) on behalf of healthcare providers, patients, and taxpayers to fix New York’s broken prescription drug distribution system by reining in the pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) at their center. In 2019 FixRx won a ban on spread pricing in Medicaid managed care after PBMs used the tool to pocket $300 million from New Yorkers the previous year.
The Village Apothecary, along with other independent pharmacies across the state of New York, will continue fighting for a level playing field and advocating for the rights of all New Yorkers.
By vetoing a bill that would have provided vulnerable patients, taxpayers, and community pharmacies with desperately needed protections from abusive prescription drug middlemen known as pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), Governor Cuomo sided with corporate special interests over New Yorkers.
John Kaliabakos is Director of Pharmacy Services at Village Apothecary, New York City.
WestView News would like to congratulate John and Village Apothecary for the recent honor bestowed upon them by the City of New York. Designating January 3 Village Apothecary Appreciation Day, the City recognized their compassion, resiliency, and substantial contribution to the community during the AIDS epidemic and beyond. Well done!