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Pharmacy bill empowers consumers to make a choice

As a practicing pharmacist and one of the Assembly co-sponsors of the Anti-Mandatory Mail Order pharmacy bill, I could not disagree more with the Aug. 24 letter to the editor, "Pharmaceutical industry gets breaks while consumers suffer."

The bill (A.5502-B/S.3510-B) passed overwhelmingly because it is the right approach to offering consumers the ability to choose how they receive their prescription medications. It does not remove the mail-order option from the insurance companies; it simply allows patients the ability to opt out of mandatory mail order.

Currently, consumers with a mandatory mail-order option are forced to purchase an interim supply of their medication from their neighborhood pharmacist. The local pharmacy is then forced to bear the burden of educating the patient as to the use and potential effects of the prescribed drug, and after filling the initial prescription, the patient is then required to receive medications exclusively by mail.

Many consumers, especially senior citizens, rely on their pharmacist for the personal services they provide with respect to monitoring their drug regimen. Mandatory purchasing by mail denies them of this vitally important and potentially life-saving service.

I could recount numerous stories of patients who were forced to wait for life-saving medications that were lost in the mail or didn't arrive. Patients in crisis then turn to their local pharmacists who are powerless to help because the mail-order pharmacy already billed the insurance carrier for the medication.

The inability of the consumer to purchase the full prescription from the neighborhood pharmacy also imposes an unfair burden on the pharmacy, thereby providing the mail-order house with an economic advantage that the local provider cannot overcome. The legislation allows pharmacies in the health care provider's network the opportunity to offer the same medications at comparable prices and co-pays that are offered by the mail-order program.

The bill is also good for New York's economy because it will stop billions of dollars from flowing to mail-order centers in other states. Community pharmacies provide valuable resources and services to their customers, in addition to jobs and tax revenue. Studies have also shown that mandatory mail order does not save health insurance companies or consumers money.

Finally, it is interesting to note that the Federal Trade Commission's opinion, referred to by the letter writer, was solicited at the request of a state senator who oversees the insurance industry and voted against the bill.

Unfortunately, profits over patient care are far too often the rule. This is one small solution to allow people an active role in their health care decisions. This legislation should be signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo because it is good medicine for patients, community pharmacies and New York's economy.

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Daniel J. Burling represents the 147th Assembly District.

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