ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Pharmacists and elected officials rallied outside the state capitol Wednesday, urging lawmakers to pass bills they say would save New York’s independent pharmacies. Opponents of the legislation claim it’ll dig deeper into patients’ pockets.

Clad in white lab coats, pharmacists from around New York State stood in East Capitol Park, urgently calling for the passage of bills they say are more important now than ever, with their businesses having been on the front lines of the pandemic and vaccination process.

One bill referenced at the rally would require Medicaid-managed care plans to reimburse retail pharmacies in an amount equal to the fee-for-service rate. Assemblyman John McDonald, also a pharmacist, says this will be important in not only keeping mom and pop shops open, but chains as well.

“Starting in the South End of Albany, two blocks away, go up to my hometown in Cohoes. Four Walgreens closed in the span of 18 months. This is, really, a sad epitome of how the state looks at reimbursing healthcare providers in communities of low-income need,” McDonald said.

Another bill pushed at the rally would require pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs, to be licensed by the insurance department, and be more transparent about the discounts or rebates they get from drug companies. PBMs are companies that manage prescription drug benefits on behalf of health insurers.

“They are parasites of the healthcare system. They they rig prices, they eliminate patient choice, they rip off our states taxpayers, and destroy the neighborhood pharmacies,” said Thomas D’Angelo, President of the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York.

The Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, which represents PBMs in New York and across the country, issued the following statement in response to claims made at the rally:

Independent pharmacies are operating successfully nationwide, including in New York. In fact, in New York, between 2011 and 2021, the number of independent pharmacies actually grew from 2,276 to 2,857, a 25.5% increase.

The pharmacy lobby backed legislation, Senate Bill 3762 and Assembly Bill 1396 would increase drug spending in New York State by $28 billion, thereby padding pharmacy profits and increasing costs for New York employers and patients. 

Despite the powerful independent pharmacy lobby’s claims, the fact is pharmacy benefit managers, PBMs, are fighting to keep prescription drugs accessible and affordable for New Yorkers.

Greg Lopes, Assistant Vice President of Strategic Communications for Pharmaceutical Care Management Association