Serving Franklin County, WA

Rural pharmacy rules bad for communities

Growing up on the farm, I heard grandma’s sage advice in just about every situation imaginable.

“A trouble shared is a trouble halved.”

“This isn’t my first rodeo.”

“Many hands make light work.”

When hearing about Kaiser Permanente’s change in how its customers could get their prescriptions refilled, what came to mind was this: “It doesn’t cut the mustard.”

Last summer, the Public Employees Benefits Board (PEBB) and the School Employees Benefits Board (SEBB) voted to allow Kaiser Permanente to proceed with new rural pharmacy rules. Rural residents are now required to have their prescriptions refilled either through the mail or by a Kaiser Permanente pharmacy.

I don’t think the PEBB and SEBB knew how bad this would be for rural residents and communities. Three specific things come to mind.

First, for some rural residents in eastern and southeastern Washington, this could mean an hour or more on the road to the approved pharmacy in Spokane. At a time when gas prices are so high and inflation is eating so much more of our family budgets, this is going to unnecessarily cost the consumer more time and money.

Second, relying on the mail for life-saving drugs like insulin and blood thinners is dangerous. Weather delays, shipping or trucking problems, or understaffing issues are all potential hazards to mail order prescriptions.

Lastly, Kaiser’s new rules will put many rural pharmacies out of business. In rural communities, the local pharmacist is the first point of health care contact. They are checking for bad reactions to medications, clarifying the dangers of combining certain medications, and giving general health care advice and guidance.

Local pharmacies serve an important role in helping to keep rural residents healthy and safe. Putting the small mom-and-pop local pharmacy out of business so a multibillion-dollar company can save a few more pennies shouldn’t sit well with anybody.

As a result, I’m cosponsoring House Bill 1253 which, among many other things, will require insurance plans to offer a choice to the consumer when it comes to prescription refills. Because, at the end of the day, I just want consumers to have a choice. What Kaiser Permanente did was wrong.

Because the open enrollment period is in November, and Kaiser’s new rural pharmacy rules went into effect in January, many citizens feel there wasn’t enough effort to inform policy holders about the new rule changes. I’ve heard from several residents who’ve said they wouldn’t have chosen Kaiser Permanente had they known about the new rules. Now they must wait nearly a year to make a change.

It will be interesting to see if consumer backlash and the threat of losing customers forces Kaiser to make a change or if they decide to do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing to do.

In any event, Kaiser’s seemingly careless attitude towards the rural communities they serve brings another one of grandma’s sayings to mind. One that perhaps Kaiser Permanente needs to remember: “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

— Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, is the ranking member on the House Health Care and Wellness Committee and also serves on the House Appropriations Committee.


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