Drug Store in Storrs Closes Up Shop [Hartford Courant]

June 23, 2011

I will continue to speak out against the Governor’s anti-business policies, as I do in this Hartford Courant article.

Article as it appeared in the Hartford Courant
June 22, 2011

The owner of a 60-year-old independent drug store in Storrs is blaming his decision to close the shop on an impending state policy that would require state employees to buy their prescription drugs by mail, a change that could wipe out his business.

“I knew we were going to lose so many patients,” said Naufel Tajudeen, owner of Storrs Drug and a pharmacist. “Once my suppliers knew, they started dropping my credit limit. July 1 would have been way too late to close.” Tajudeen had to lay off the store’s four full-time workers and 10 part-time employees.

Storrs Drug, which depends on state employees for nearly 70 percent of its prescription business, may be the first “mom and pop” drug store to close as a result of the policy, and more could follow.

In Connecticut, state employees’ prescription drug purchases total about $180 million each year, according to the Connecticut Pharmacists Association.

Mail-order prescriptions are currently voluntary. But that option would end July 1, if the policy, which is part of the union concessions deal, goes into effect. The deal is awaiting ratification by the state’s 15 employees’ unions, but it has already prompted an outcry from independent pharmacists across the state and a meeting with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is planned for Friday.

Under the plan, state employees could buy only emergency prescription drugs, including antibiotics and other short-term medications, from their local pharmacy. But maintenance drugs that treat long-term conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes would have to be purchased by mail from CVS Caremark, based in Woonsocket, R.I.

Other independent pharmacies also fear the fallout of the drug plan provision, part of the labor concessions deal between the Malloy administration and the state’s 15 employee unions.

“Right now the unions are voting on the concession program. We need as many people as possible saying this piece isn’t fair. It denies patients their right to choose and threatens jobs,” said Scott Wolak, the owner of two independent pharmacies, Higganum Pharmacy in Haddam and Hope Street Pharmacy and Medical Supply in Stamford.

“It’s not just mandatory mail order, but it’s mandatory CVS mail order — Caremark in Rhode Island,” Wolak said. “You’re sending all that business to Rhode Island; they should be having a party. I understand the governor is in a predicament. I want to see him succeed, but when you’re favoring one company over others, that’s not fair.”

“I don’t want to have to lay off people. If we’re trying to create jobs why are we forcing jobs out of the state. I’m doing my part, hiring, hiring.” said Wolak, who employs about 60 workers at the two pharmacies he operates.

State employees purchasing “an emergency 10-day supply of antibiotics here and there is not going to keep the independents in business. If you want to use the mail, go right ahead, but if you want to have a clinical relationship with a local pharmacists you should have the choice,” Wolak added.

Mark Ojakian, deputy secretary of the state Office of Policy Management, said the provision would save the state $20 million annually. Caremark is the state employees’ pharmacy benefit manager, Ojakian said, and “as long as that local pharmacy has a legal relationship with Caremark they’re part of the program.” Mail orders are currently voluntary.

The outcry over the drug plan has reached the governor’s office. Malloy’s representatives plan to meet with the pharmacists association Friday to discuss the issue.

Ojakian said part of that meeting would focus on Caremark’s efforts to establish a system that would allow independent pharmacies to be part of the state’s “new mandatory maintenance program.”

“We’re attempting to work with these associations that represent pharmacists so they won’t be impacted in a way they would be originally,” Ojakian said.

But apparently, it’s too late for Storrs Drug, former customers and some Republican lawmakers say.

“I will venture to say that this will be the first of many small pharmacies that go out of business,” Sen. Rob Kane, a Republican from Watertown, said. “By having the state employees buy online you’re putting a dent in the local mom and pop pharmacies — they rely on those prescriptions.”

The impending policy also spells the end of a program Tajudeen had entered into with the University of Connecticut’s School of Pharmacy last November. Tajudeen and Uconn’s health care providers hoped to create a model program in which pharmacists play a greater role in patient care. “Patients today are dependent on medications. An older person might be taking four to six medications. We wanted to be a resource, take the time to sit down and talk to people about their medications. A mail order pharmacy can’t do that,” Tajudeen said.

“The idea was to build a program and show insurance companies could save money,” Tajudeen said. “Connecticut is a tough market. In my mind, my wife and I are done with Connecticut.”

“You could call Storrs Drug any time, when your doctor wasn’t around and they would help you,” said Mary Harper, a former customer. “They were part of our community. Now who are you going to call when you get the wrong prescription or you have an interaction?”