One of Central Oregon’s last independent pharmacies is closings its doors at the end of the month.
Hometown Drugs in Madras, owned by Jeanne and Mike Mendazona for the past 25 years, is feeling the effects of increasing fees from Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs).
“The Pharmacy Benefits Managers are crushing independent pharmacies,” Jeanne Mendazona said. “It’s been an ongoing issue for quite a few years now, but it’s gotten worse and worse…they are responsible for managing the pharmacy benefits on behalf of an insurer. Now three Pharmacy Benefits Managers own 80% of the pharmacy prescription processing marketplace.”
Those PBMs (CVS Caremark, Express Scripts, and OptumRx) often partner with larger pharmacies like Walmart and CVS. They control how much they reimburse pharmacies for prescription drugs, and independent pharmacies are charged high fees to have the benefits that those partnered with the PBMs already have.
Those benefits include participation in preferred networks, as well as access to claims databases.
Because of this, Mendazona says it’s been increasingly hard to turn a profit over the past decade.
“The last three years, I haven’t taken a salary out of here,” she said. “These last 10 years, the fees that we get charged by these PBMs have increased by over 106,000%.”
Teri Davis has been a Hometown Drugs customer for the past five years, and said she was ‘totally in shock’ to hear the news of the closure.
“I had went to Bi-Mart and then I came here, and then I went back to Bi-Mart and then I came back, and now I’m hearing that they’re leaving us again, so I’m disappointed,” she said.
Donald Jackson, another five-year customer, didn’t know about the closure until he spoke with Central Oregon Daily News on Tuesday.
“I know Bi-Mart shut their pharmacy down, so fewer and fewer places to go to pick up our medicine, so it’s a little concerning,” he said.
Bi-Mart Pharmacy was bought out by Walgreens Pharmacy in Sept. 2021.
The Safeway pharmacy purchased Hometown Drugs’ prescriptions, leaving thousands of former customers to choose between Safeway and the new Mosaic Medical pharmacy in town.
Letting go after all these years is a challenge.
“It’s really hard and very sad for me because I feel very responsible for people who have come 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 as it were.”
For the customers Central Oregon Daily News spoke to on Tuesday, the change was disheartening, but manageable.
“I go to Mosaic anyway, and it probably won’t be that much of a change, but it’s just a disappointment that there’s so many changes,” Davis said.
Davis said Mosaic Medical was the same distance from his home as Hometown Drugs, but the amount of pharmacy options is an issue.
“We need more than just two pharmacies in my opinion, because the population’s just going to grow,” he said.
There are now just four independent pharmacies left in Central Oregon across Bend, Prineville, Redmond, and La Pine.
Hometown Drugs, while owned by the Mendazonas since 1998, existed for many years before that point. It will officially close at the end of the day on June 29th.
Mendazona said she was hoping to start up a prescription consultant service after leaving this position, in order to manage communications between people and their doctor’s offices, pharmacies, or insurance agencies.
“I have people crying when they come in to tell us goodbye,” she said. “I’ve been handing out my cell phone number to all these people to call me when they have issues transitioning over, that I might be able to help straighten something out or call on their behalf to talk to the pharmacy…but I don’t want people to feel I’m just walking away, because I know they feel very stressed.”