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Published: Thursday, 1/29/2004

Change in UAW plan upsets area independent druggists

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
IN 2002, AUTOMAKERS SPENT $2.5 BILLION ON PRESCRIPTION DRUGS. UNDER THE PROGRAM, ANYONE COVERED WILL MAKE ONE CO

Changes in the prescription drug coverage plans of the Big Three automakers and two suppliers' contracts with the United Auto Workers have given Toledo area independent pharmacists a large headache.

To save money, the three contracts covering nearly 1.8 million workers, retirees, and dependents mandate that so-called "maintenance drugs" - prescriptions for chronic illnesses like hypertension, diabetes, and high cholesterol - be filled by a mail order through a New Jersey-based pharmacy program that provides 90-day supplies of medicine at lower costs.

About 200 such drugs are identified in the program.

For other drugs, such as a one-time need for antibiotics, workers can use their local pharmacies and pay the required co-pay of $5 for generics and $10 for brand name drugs.

"The changes .<0x00A6>.<0x00A6>. are an effort to reduce health care costs for both company and employees," said Debra Nelson, a spokesman for DaimlerChrysler AG. Her company as well as Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp., and suppliers Delphi Corp. and Visteon Corp. enacted the changes Jan. 1.

About nine local pharmacists have formed a group called the Coalition for Responsible Health Care to protest the changes, and say their businesses will lose significant revenues because of the new program.

"I'm probably looking at reduced hours and layoff for some employees. It could get pretty tragic," said Brent Kahler, owner of Kahler Pharmacy on Airport Highway in Toledo.

Mr. Kahler estimated the changes could mean a loss of 20 to 25 percent of his revenues. He declined to say how much money that would be. "Off the top of my head, I can think of 10 people who are at Jeep and they have 55 to 60 prescriptions a month that will be affected by this," he said.

Tom Tadsen, owner Shaffer Pharmacy on Sunforest Court in Toledo, estimated he will lose about 20 percent of his business when the change is in full effect after March. He said the bigger chain pharmacies also will be hurt, although none are members of the local coalition.

"It represents a tremendous number of lives," he added.

The local pharmacists also contend that area people, particularly retirees, will miss the relationship they have with their druggist and the advice they receive about taking medicine and potential drug side affects.

However, Medco Health So

lutions Inc., the Franklin Lakes, N.J. mail-order pharmacy that will fill the maintenance drug prescriptions, said that is not correct. Spokesman Ann Smith said the company provides customers with a 24-hour hotline to talk to a pharmacist about any drug question and sends reminders to customers about refilling prescriptions. If someone forgets to renew a prescription in time, the company makes a one-week supply available immediately at a local pharmacy, she said.

Oscar Bunch, president of UAW Local 14 at GM's Toledo Powertrain Plant, said union members were somewhat concerned with the new drug plan changes, but that anxiety has diminished.

Workers enrolled in the Blue Cross Blue Shield plan must use the mail-order program, but people in Paramount or other health-maintenance organizations have no changes, he said. About a third of the plant's workers will be affected, he added.

Mr. Kahler said local pharmacists realize there likely is little that can be done until the next UAW national contract with the Big Three in four years. But, he said, the local pharmacists should be given the chance to sell the maintenance drugs..

Mr. Tadsen said, "If we were offered the same deal at the same price of reimbursement and we said, 'No,' that would be one thing. They just didn't ask anybody."



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