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Drug purchase bill before governor

Drug purchase bill before governor

ALBANY — A bill that's been the subject of a fierce lobbying battle pitting retail pharmacists against their mail-order rivals has made it to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's desk more than five months after passing the Legislature.

The measure, approved by wide majorities in the Assembly and Senate, would prohibit health insurers from requiring customers to use a mail-order pharmacy to supply their medications. Mail-order operations, and the "pharmacy benefit managers" that often run them, are becoming increasingly popular as cost-savings mechanisms.

Retail pharmacies — from the lowliest mom-and-pop to chains such as CVS — say these mandatory arrangements reduce customer choice and freeze them out of the mail-order market.

Critics of the bill, however, say it could have the unintended effect of driving up drug costs across the board, a view echoed in a memo of opposition issued by the Federal Trade Commission.

"I'm still very hopeful (the governor) is going to sign the bill," said Assemblyman Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, the bill's original sponsor.

Heastie said that after "a lot of discussion," the governor might be willing to sign the bill after securing the promise of legislative changes to be made early in the next session, which starts in January.

The bone of contention, according to Heastie and others, is language currently in the bill that would allow a retail pharmacy to vie for business as long as it "offers to accept a price that is comparable to that of a mail order pharmacy."

The chapter amendment, Heastie said, would replace "comparable" — seen by critics as far too vague — with "exact." Retailers would have to match and not simply approximate prices offered by mail-order outfits.

Jonah Houts, spokesman for the mail-order business Express Scripts, said Cuomo should veto the bill outright rather than simply adjust the language. "We can't support a mandate that patients pay more," he said.

Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto said the bill was under review, but wouldn't confirm any agreement on a chapter amendment.

Among the seven bills sent to Cuomo's desk on Tuesday was a related measure that would require insurers to make fertility drugs available from retail pharmacists at the same coverage price offered to those receiving the same drugs from mail-order companies.

Reach Seiler at 454-5619 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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