A new Mississippi law will allow a pharmacy in a network to decline to provide drugs or service if the pharmacy is paid less than the acquisition cost for the product.
The law, which goes into effect July 1, was pushed by independent pharmacists in the state, but will benefit all pharmacists, said the bill's author, House Public Health and Welfare Chairman Sam Mims, R-McComb,
The Legislature passed House Bill 456 this year and it has been signed by Gov. Phil Bryant.
Mims said there are times some pharmacists' costs to purchase drugs are more than they can sell them for.
"Insurance will only pay x amount for certain drugs," Mims said. "We came up with a compromise to help the customer as well as the pharmacist to manage costs."
If the network pharmacy declines to provide a particular drug or service, the pharmacy or pharmacist must provide the customer with adequate information as to where the prescription can be filled or the service met.
In a network, a licensed pharmacy contracts with a pharmacy benefit manager to provide covered drugs at a negotiated reimbursement rate.
Mims said there may be only one pharmacist in some areas of the state, but the pharmacist may have employees to pay and associated costs. The pharmacist needs to be able to make money to stay in business, Mims said.
Express Scripts, the country's largest pharmacy benefit manager company, calls the law unfair.
"It is unfair for pharmacies to put profits ahead of people and turn away patients who need medication," said Express Scripts spokesman Brian Henry. "The burden should not fall to the patient or payer if a pharmacy is not a good purchaser of drugs. Our job is to work with payers -- employers, health plans, unions and others -- to build quality, cost-effective pharmacy networks so that patients have broad access to medicine they need. This legislation reduces care and access for patients."
Mims said a key part of the law is that it requires the state Board of Pharmacy, which regulates the licensing of pharmacists, to come up with rules and regulations for compliance.
Such rules and regulations must address access to pharmacy services in rural or underserved areas.
Buell Polk, owner of six Polk's Drugs, said the new law is a a catch 22.
"As a business, it all comes down to the bottom line," Polk said. "If we aren't able to compete, we aren't going to stay in business, but on the professional side, we are dedicated to helping the public and sometime we have to put the person ahead of profit."
The deadline is Oct. 1 for the state Board of Pharmacy to adopt the rules and regulations.