State Capitol

Montana State Capitol Building

The spigot is wide open, lots of bills getting thru both chambers, amendments placed and agreed with, some back to the appropriations committee for a final review and then on to the governor’s office.

As of March 31st, he has signed 123 and vetoed three.

One of which, on Friday, I sponsored on behalf of the Montana State Pharmacy Association. Pretty cool to attend a signing, complete with pictures and even the signing pen.

This bill deserves a big shout out to Governor Bullock for staying the course and standing up for the rural pharmacies. Just like we legislators, he, too, was being pressured by the big guns who were trying hard to defend and protect their shaded and shadowy turf. Here’s a quick look at the ‘rest of the story’ and how the drama played out right up to the next to last day.

You may recall from earlier posts that this bill was to give the pharmacies some relief and a method of “opting out,” under certain conditions, from being forced to fill prescriptions when doing so put them in a negative position of losing hundreds of dollars sometimes filling one prescription.

What creates this predicament is their contract with the Pharmacy Benefit Management groups, whose role is to be the middle man between the drug manufacturer, the insurance companies, and the retail pharmacy. They control the drug cost, the amount the insurance company can pay and then the amount the pharmacy will be charged. Rural and small pharmacies are losing money and finding difficulty in being able to survive.

This story is a classic David and Goliath situation.

The PBM’s are making obscene profits off the backs of us the tax payer and us the insured, placing small pharmacies at risk of survival. They do not want transparency. The layers of bureaucracy are so complex that in testimony at hearings they could not even unravel it themselves.

The first hearing was in the House Business and Labor committee, the room was full of rural pharmacies, like Florence Community Pharmacy, and others all across the state. The opponents were lobbyists and insurers like Blue Cross/Blue Shield. The committee passed the bill.

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The hearing at the Senate committee brought bigger guns from the opponents. Executives and attorneys from Chicago and Philadelphia. This was hard ball and yet the committee kept trying to get past the top layers with their probing questions.

I was excited. The lobbyist for the State Pharmacy Association reminding me cautiously, “there’s a long way to go yet.” As I watched the lead attorney for the PBM’s stand at the podium, I couldn’t help but notice the difference in his suit, haircut and shoes compared to mine. His shoes likely cost more than my entire get up.

The folks supporting the bill kept up their contact with the senators. The bill passed out of the Senate with strong support and a week ago was sent to the governor for his signature.

As a bill sponsor we can ask to be present for a photo op when the bill is signed. I was given a date of Friday morning. Then it happened. Early Wednesday the corporate jet landed. Top executives and attorneys from the PBM’s had arranged for a private meeting with the governor.

We got wind of it around noon and knew immediately how much importance they were placing on doing and spending whatever it took to have a last minute effort asking the governor to stop or veto the bill. Nervously I approached the scheduling person in the governor’s office Thursday afternoon: “Uh, I’m scheduled for a signing at 9:30 tomorrow, just wanting to make sure I had the time correct?” “Yes Rep Greef you are second up at 9:30.” Wow. Could it be that we made it? I was somewhat comforted, but knew I was not going to relax until I actually sat down beside the governor.

Thank you Governor Bullock for standing with us for the small and rural pharmacies all across the state. HB-276 is now law.

– Ed Greef, Rep HD-88,