MEEKER I Meeker businesswoman, Cassie McGuire, was furious.
She went to Meeker Drugs and told them that her family health insurance company had informed her that in the future, with the exception of first or emergency orders, they would only cover prescription drugs acquired by mail order.
She doesn’t like it—she wants to get her prescriptions in person, in Meeker, she wants to support her fellow Meeker business and she can’t always wait for mail service.
Meeker Drugs owner Diana Jones confirms the situation saying that more than one health insurance company has said this is how they will be working. They are requiring, or indicating they will require, that all refills be obtained by mail order.
Jones is so concerned what this may mean for her business and other rural, small-town pharmacies that she’s been working with RxPlus, a pharmacy association, to support House Bill 16-1361 in the Colorado Legislature, which would require that customers have their choice of pharmacies.
The prime sponsors of the bill in the House are Dianne Primavera, D-Broomfield, and Jon Becker, R-Ft. Morgan. They claim 27 other states have already passed similar laws. Becker says none of these states have seen an increase in cost attributable to pharmacy choice.
Opponents of the measure argue that consumers being allowed to choose where to obtain their drugs will spark price hikes, or jeopardize current contracts between insurers and pharmacies. Reports from Denver indicate this bill has caused some of the most intense opposition of the session from lobbyists for business groups and insurance companies.
Jones was pleased the Rio Blanco County Commissioners contacted State Representative Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, urging him to support the bill.
He was originally inclined to oppose the bill as industry lobbyists were saying the primary mail order prescription fulfillment outfit in the state, Express Scripts, already had a relationship with 95 out of 104 independent pharmacies in the state, so the transition to all mail-order prescriptions would be seamless and harmless.
Harmless? Jones sees no way small town pharmacies like hers can survive without having the refill business.
The bill cleared the House Public Health Care and Human Services Committee April 5 on a narrow 7-6 mixed partisan vote. It passed House floor second reading with the recommended committee amendments April 7, but only after heavy debate.
The House came back to the bill with more contentious debate on third reading April 14, passing it narrowly on a 34-31 vote (25 Democrats and nine Republicans voted for the bill; 22 Republicans and nine Democrats voted against the bill).
The House Republicans who supported the bill were from largely rural districts while the Democrats that opposed the bill were from urban districts. Rep. Rankin voted in favor of the bill.
Senate President Bill Cadman assigned the bill to the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee and to the Finance Committee. Both committees are considered difficult to get bills through.
The only two options in the State Affairs Committee, then, were to kill the bill or move it to Finance.
With Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, being vice-chair of the committee and being a prime sponsor of HB 1361, the bill passed to the Finance Committee on a 4-1 vote April 25. Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, who is on neither committee, is the other Senate prime sponsor on the bill.
Under the bill, patients, not insurance companies, would necessarily be able to choose where and how medications are obtained, and if a pharmacy falls outside of an insurer’s network, there could be no additional charges forced on the patient.
Out-of-network pharmacies, however, would have to agree to the insurer’s reimbursements.
This year’s legislative session is required to adjourn by May 11.
The bill is to be heard in Senate Finance Committee today, May 5.
This committee is made up of three Republicans, Sens. Tim Neville, Jefferson County, chair, Owen Hill, vice-chair, Colorado Springs, and Chris Holbert, Douglas County, and two Democrats, Sens. Michael Johnston, Denver, and Andy Kerr, Lakewood. None have particularly rural districts.
Sen. Hill was the lone member of the Senate State Affairs Committee to vote against the bill.
State Senator Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, whose Senate District 8 includes Rio Blanco County, has not returned calls for comment on the bill. His office at the State Capitol, however, said he usually does not comment regarding his position on a bill until he sees the final language on which he’s expected to vote.