Politics and Government

‘Overdue for action’: Pharmacists press for financial help, changes to prevent closures

A Black woman uses a label maker on a large syringe
Independent pharmacists in Minnesota are asking lawmakers to boost their Medicaid reimbursement.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Independent pharmacists on Tuesday urged lawmakers to take action to boost their Medicaid reimbursement rates to help them stay afloat financially.

Without a lifeline, a group representing pharmacists said some around the state would have to close their doors in coming months. 

The request comes as more independent pharmacies face financial strains. Roughly 34 percent of independent pharmacies closed between 2018 and 2023, compared to 20 percent of retail pharmacy chains.

“Like the rest of the locally owned small business pharmacies in our state, my pharmacy cannot remain open for long without the partnership of the state Legislature, the governor and the enforcement arm of our Department of Commerce,” said Deborah Keaveny, a pharmacist at Keaveny Drug in Winsted. “We need relief beginning with stopping the forced underwater reimbursements.”

Several pharmacists said they receive lower reimbursement rates than other medical providers. And they said while they support an effort to replicate a federal policy that let pharmacies test and vaccinate against more illnesses during the pandemic, it should be paired with additional funding. The federal policy is set to expire at the end of the year.

DFL lawmakers have introduced bills backed by the pharmacists that increase reimbursement rates and increase professional dispensing fees to offset some of those losses.

The combined price tag is about $1.5 million for the proposals to bump up reimbursement rates and replicate the federal vaccination policy at the state level, both of which have cleared at least one committee in each chamber

“Like an emergency antibiotic, these bills are the prescription we need right now, the lifeline that will buy us time to engage in a treatment plan to help ensure that local pharmacies will be able to continue serving their communities for generations to come,” said John Hoeschen, a pharmacist and owner of St. Paul Corner Drug.

The proposals are moving through committees at the Capitol and could be included in broader health spending bills. Sen. Alice Mann, DFL-Edina, is a sponsor of some bills and said lawmakers should take action this year.

“We know that currently rural and urban pharmacy deserts are growing in Minnesota,” Mann said. “So the time for action is well, a long time ago. We are well overdue for action.”