One of the last independent pharmacies in Central Oregon will close at the end of the month.
Hometown Drugs in Madras, owned by Jeanne and Mike Mendazona for 25 years, is feeling the effects of rising benefits from Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs).
“The Pharmacy Benefits Managers are crushing independent pharmacies,” said Jeanne Mendazona. “It’s been a persistent problem for a number of years, but it’s getting worse… they are responsible for managing pharmacy benefits on behalf of an insurer. Now three Pharmacy Benefits Managers own 80% of the pharmacy prescription processing market.”
Those PBMs (CVS Caremark, Express Scripts, and OptumRx) often partner with larger pharmacies like Walmart and CVS. They set how much they reimburse pharmacies for prescription drugs, and independent pharmacies pay a high cost to have the benefits that those who partner with the PBMs already have.
Those benefits include participation in preferred networks and access to claims databases.
That’s why Mendazona says it has become increasingly difficult to make a profit over the past ten years.
“I haven’t gotten a salary out of this for the past three years,” she said. “Over the past 10 years, the fees we are charged by these PPEs have increased by more than 106,000%.”
Teri Davis has been a customer of Hometown Drugs for five years and said she was “completely shocked” when she heard the news of the closure.
“I had gone to Bi-Mart and then I came here, and then I went back to Bi-Mart and then I came back, and now I hear they are leaving us again, so I’m disappointed,” she said.
Donald Jackson, another five-year-old customer, was unaware of the closure until he spoke to the Central Oregon Daily News on Tuesday.
“I know that Bi-Mart has closed their pharmacy, so less and less places to pick up our drugs, so it’s a bit concerning,” he said.
Bi-Mart Pharmacy was acquired by Walgreens Pharmacy in September 2021.
▶️ Walgreens Pharmacy Customers Frustrated With Delays Amid Bi-Mart Merger
The Safeway dispensary purchased the prescriptions from Hometown Drugs, giving thousands of former customers the choice between Safeway and the city’s new Mosaic Medical dispensary.
Letting go after all these years is a challenge.
“It’s very difficult and very sad for me because I feel very responsible for the people who have been coming to me for a long time,” Mendazona said. “I feel very invested in their well-being, and now I’m going to have to walk away from my post, so to speak.”
For the customers Central Oregon Daily News spoke to on Tuesday, the change was daunting but manageable.
“I’m going to Mosaic anyway, and it probably won’t be that big of a change, but it’s just a disappointment that there are so many changes,” Davis said.
Davis said Mosaic Medical was the same distance from his home as Hometown Drugs, but the number of pharmacy options is an issue.
“In my opinion, we need more than just two pharmacies, because the population is only going to grow,” he said.
There are now only four independent pharmacies left in Central Oregon in Bend, Prineville, Redmond and La Pine.
Hometown Drugs, which has been owned by the Mendazonas since 1998, existed many years before that. At the end of the day on June 29, it will be officially closed.
Mendazona said she hoped to start a prescription consultant after leaving this position to manage communication between people and their doctor’s offices, pharmacies or insurance agencies.
“I have people crying when they come in to say hello to us,” she said. “I’ve given out my cell phone number to all these people to call me if they’re having transition issues so maybe I can help set something straight or call on their behalf to talk to the pharmacy…but I’m doing it I don’t want people to feel like I’m just walking away because I know they’re feeling very stressed.”