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Bonamici talks health care during pharmacy tour

by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: ROBIN JOHNSON - Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici discusses health care issues, such as the inflated pricing of some prescription drugs, while touring a Scappoose pharmacy. Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici visited Hi-School Pharmacy in Scappoose Wednesday, March 27, to show support for community pharmacies and discuss Medicare reforms.

“If we can save money for our seniors, we should be doing it,” Bonamici said as she walked into the small drug store with director and president of Hi-School Pharmacy, Jack Holt, and his vice president of operations, John Crawford.

Bonamici supports a reform she says could save up to $156 billion while lowering prescription drug prices for seniors by up to $27 billion. The reform would require price negotiations to be held by the Secretary of Health and Human Services on behalf of the Medicare Part D Program, which currently serves 28 million seniors.

Medicare administrators have been barred from negotiating new rates with the pharmaceutical industry since 2004.

“If we lift the ban on allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, we would cut our deficit by as much as $156 billion over the next 10 years,” Bonamici said. “This simple reform would also cut costs for seniors and help us to avoid cuts in other places like education.”

Bonamici also highlighted support for a reform that would allow small community pharmacies to remain competitive against larger chains when providing affordable prescription drugs for seniors. Most preferred network plans under the Medicare Part D Program do not allow independently owned pharmacies to participate.

“We’re often excluded from Medicare’s preferred pharmacy networks, and that’s forcing many of our longtime customers to travel longer distances to access lower prices,” Holt said. “We’ve always been a strong, affordable option for seniors and we would like to keep it that way. We just want a level playing field so that we can continue to be the face of neighborhood healthcare.”

Holt gave Bonamici a tour of the pharmacy and explained how the business operates. He also raised the issue of the high costs of some drugs. Different pharmaceutical companies sometimes require the pharmacy to pay more than what they can sell the product for, Holt explained.

“I can’t name the company, because if I complain about the company, they’ll pull the drug,” Holt said. “The pricing plan can be different almost every time.”

The rising cost of pharmaceuticals is a result of products being produced by only one manufacturer; with no competitors, manufacturers can raise their prices, Holt said.

“The worst thing—aside from losing money—is that I have no opportunity to keep people in the store,” he said.