Losing money, MN pharmacists ask legislators for help

Minnesota’s independent pharmacists are pleading for help at the State Capitol, hoping a couple of changes to the law can keep them in business.

Almost 200 of the state’s pharmacies have already closed in the last six years, creating pharmacy deserts in both rural and urban neighborhoods.

And independent pharmacies and their patients took the brunt of it.

Some patients say they have to travel a lot further to get their prescriptions, or they’re rationing their drugs.

Even more commonly, they’re working with mail-order pharmacies and losing a personal touch that sometimes keeps them out of danger.

St. Paul Corner Drug was David Little’s pharmacy for about 40 years until he found out they were losing money by filling his prescriptions.

He switched to a mail-order pharmacy and found the communication lacking.

"It puts all the burden on the patient who, you know, at my age, you start losing a little bit of your ability to jump through hoops," Little said.

He takes prescription drugs for glaucoma and some other ailments and says he even got the wrong drugs once from a mail-order business.

Cindy Harley says she also had to switch over.

The mail-order pharmacy once sent her refrigerated migraine medication at room temperature and ruined it.

And she relied on St. Paul Corner Drug pharmacists to educate her about side effects the mail-order pharmacies may not highlight.

"When I can't think as clearly as I would like and I'm in a lot of pain," Harley said. "I appreciate more than ever being treated like a human and not just a number on a bottle."

St. Paul Corner Drug is one of 156 independent pharmacies remaining in Minnesota, with 34% of them closing since 2018.

Four bills in front of the legislature could help keep them afloat.

One of them makes sure pharmacists get paid the same amount as other health care providers, including doctors, each time they perform the same health care service.

Without that kind of help, St. Paul Corner Drug’s owner says 60% of what they do is actually costing them money, so they won’t be able to stay in business for long.

"Doesn't matter that it's been there 102 years," said owner John Hoeschen. "Doesn't matter that we all care. Doesn't matter that we show up every day and bust our butts to take care of patients. The money doesn't work. The business closes. End of story."

Another of the bills would let pharmacists and their technicians and interns keep doing FDA-approved vaccinations for anyone over the age of 3.

Before COVID, it was ages 6 or 13, depending on the vaccination.