Astoria residents condemn pharmacy merger

Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (c.) and neighbors gather in front of Astoria's Titan Pharmacy to protest the proposed merger of Medco and Express Scripts. She was joined by Astoria District Leader Costa Constantinides (second from l.).
TimesLedger Newspapers

State Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) held a recent rally attended by about 30 people at an Astoria pharmacy to protest a proposed merger between two pharmacy benefit management companies, saying the plan would be a detriment to local businesses.

“They can put pharmacies out of business,” Simotas said about the possible combination of the two companies.

Pharmaceutical benefit management companies act as a third party between pharmaceutical firms and patients in managing prescription drug plans. Some services they provide include processing and paying claims, managing which drugs are covered by which plans and negotiating discounts and rebates. Many of their services on the consumer end are done through mail order.

Recently two of the three major pharmaceutical benefit management companies — the Franklin Lakes, N.J.-based Medco Health Solutions and the St. Louis-based Express Scripts — have been making their case to merge into one entity before the U.S. Congress and the Federal Trade Commission.

While there are many smaller such companies, the merger would leave the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based CVS Caremark as the only other major company.

“These three PBMs do the same thing, so eliminating one of them eliminates competition,” Simotas said.

Simotas held the rally Dec. 22 after approaching Peter Levis and George Rontiris, the owners of Titan Pharmacy, at 35-19 31st Ave. in Astoria, who had worked with the assemblywoman on previous issues regarding pharmaceutical benefit management companies.

Rontiris said these companies are usually associated with national pharmacy chains, and some medications can only be gotten through such companies, putting small, local pharmacies at an unfair advantage.

“Their purpose was to save taxpayers money and reduce the costs of prescription drugs,” Simotas said. “Really, they’re playing monopoly with health care.”

Rontiris said he believed the merger would increase the companies’ ability to push expensive rates and take tax money out of New York state.

Astoria District Leader Costa Constantinides said his wife, Lori, needs to use pharmaceutical benefit management companies for the anti-rejection drugs prescribed for her kidney and pancreas transplants. He said the two of them have had problems with the delivery of the drugs through the companies and would prefer to go through local pharmacies if they had the option.

“No one who this merger is going to touch is going to benefit,” Constantinides said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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