Earlier this month, Caterpillar Inc. announced that it will fully reimburse drug plan holders only for prescriptions filled at either Walmart or Walgreens — and a lot of people are unhappy. Independent owners of hometown pharmacies say they are worried not only for their businesses but also for their many customers who are Caterpillar employees and retirees — many with whom they have decades-long relationships.
Earlier this month, Caterpillar Inc. announced that it will fully reimburse drug plan holders only for prescriptions filled at either Walmart or Walgreens — and a lot of people are unhappy.
Independent owners of hometown pharmacies say they are worried not only for their businesses but also for their many customers who are Caterpillar employees and retirees — many with whom they have decades-long relationships.
“Caterpillar has chosen two large pharmacies that are nationwide,” said Ron Quinones, who, with his brother Don, owns Wolters Drug Store in Havana and the Manito Pharmacy in Manito. “I’m not sure my customers will get the same treatment or customer service from such large chains. They won’t know our customers. In those places you can have three, four different pharmacists a week filling your prescriptions. How can they know their customers? It’s like changing doctors.”
Quinones said he tried to contact Caterpillar several times to see if he could be included in the new program. To date, no one in the company has contacted him about the matter, he said.
John Neumann, owner of Pekin Prescription Lab, said he too had offered to participate at the same economic level as Walgreens and Walmart in order to be included in the next year’s program. The response was hazy, he said, but a representative did tell Neumann that the company will soon do a geographic analysis in areas where there aren’t any Walgreens or Walmarts within a reasonable proximity and possibly add some pharmacies to the “approved” list.
In fact, Neumann said he worries the most about those who cannot travel to pick up their prescriptions.
Pekin Prescription Lab offers free delivery to any of its customers who request it, as do Wolters Drug Store and Manito Pharmacy, allowing them to serve homebound customers as well as rural ones. Although they have a mail order option, Walmart and Walgreens offer no such delivery service.
Neumann’s drivers put more than 100 miles on each of their three delivery vehicles daily, he said, and he wonders what those customers will do when they are forced to change pharmacies.
Kilbourne resident Sharon Cowin said she and her husband Roy will have to travel to Canton, 35 miles away, for prescriptions once the new plan goes into effect.
She recounted an experience that she feels demonstrates the type of loss her family and others will face if forced to switch to a large chain pharmacy: “My husband had a stroke a few years ago.
"We got home and he needed medicine right away. I went out to (Wolters). They were closed, but a lady was locking up and I told her what was going on. She called Ron (Quinones), and he came out, opened up the store and got us what we needed. You can’t do that if you have to go 40 minutes away.
“Hometown pharmacies are there for you any time, day or night.”
Kerry Pedigo, who lives between Havana and Easton, currently drives 6 miles for his prescriptions, he said. Come 2010 he’ll have to drive 28 miles one way to get to a Walgreens or Walmart.
“This is just one corporation taking care of another,” Pedigo said. “They don’t care about the little guy.
“We know the people at Wolters. They know everything that’s going on with us. I don’t like Caterpillar choosing what pharmacy we go to. And none of us will be able to afford this and stay (at their old pharmacy.) You’d have to pay twice as much.”
Alma Aldrich worries about her sister-in-law, Ernestina Aldridge, who currently resides at Riverview Estates, an assisted living facility in Havana.
“Wolters delivers her medications right now. There’s no way she can travel to get her medicine,” said Alma Aldrich, who has power of attorney for her sister-in-law. “But if she doesn’t use their providers, she’ll have to pay full price, then fill out a bunch of paperwork, and then hopefully they will eventually reimburse her. The bill for her drugs from July, August and September were $700 for each month.”
The move smacks of betrayal to Neumann, who said he remembers when Caterpillar first started its benefit packages years ago.
“Caterpillar reps went to all the pharmacies asking for our help to keep the costs down for their employees. And we did. All the pharmacies worked with them,” he said. “This was not communicated to us at all. We had no opportunity to be a part of this.”
The change is slated to go into effect Jan. 1.
Representatives from Caterpillar declined to comment for this story beyond the statements given in a press release issued earlier this month.
“As drug costs continue to rise, we are taking steps to further manage our prescription drug benefit costs so we can continue providing a benefit that offers our plan participants value and quality,” the release says. “In order to minimize drug spending, we are best served by capitalizing on volume-based discounts from pharmacies offering a transparent cost-plus, direct-to-employer pricing methodology like Walmart and Walgreens.”
Plan participants can choose to continue using pharmacies other than Walmart or Walgreens but will pay a higher amount, the release says.
Tara Mattimoe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.