03132019CM1376SPRINGFIELD, Illinois – There’s some hope on the horizon for scores of Illinois residents who are the victims of growing drug prices and shrinking numbers of available pharmacies.

State Senator Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) today announced that the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services is finally implementing the Critical Access Pharmacy Program, providing $10 million in additional funding to keep rural, independent pharmacies open.

Throughout rural Illinois communities, consumers have experienced skyrocketing drug prices because of the poorly-regulated Pharmacy Benefit Manager (PBM) industry. PBM operations craft special deals with large corporate chain stores that small, independent and locally-owned operations can’t compete with. As a result, the small businesses are closing their doors and residents are forced to travel long distances to get the medications they need.

“Rural, independent pharmacies have long been at a disadvantage and some people in my district have been left with no options for miles around,” said State Senator Andy Manar, a Bunker Hill Democrat. “If we don’t take action now, we’re going to see costs continue to rise and competition continue to be stamped out.”

The Critical Access Pharmacy Program was included as a part of last year’s state budget, but implementation was stalled by then-governor Bruce Rauner. Today the effort is back online and Manar says he’s hopeful the quick implementation will provide much-needed relief for local pharmacies.

“This funding is going to be a major boost for rural pharmacies and will help keep them open while we find ways to combat the rising cost of prescription drugs,” said Manar, who helped ensure the inclusion of the funding in the budget. “I’m glad to see that we’re finally leaving the gridlock of the past behind and bringing this needed program to communities that are at risk of losing their local pharmacies.”

Manar also passed legislation, House Bill 465, this spring that would create a framework allowing the state to regulate PBMs, which negotiate drug prices and benefits on behalf on insurers to increase profit margins.

PBMs are largely unregulated and have not been subject to oversight, auditing or transparency laws in Illinois, even though they manage public money through the Medicaid program.

By increasing the prices of prescription medication, they often drive out competition, particularly in underserved rural areas.

“These middle men have been able to influence this industry essentially unchecked and it’s consumers who are bearing the brunt of the cost,” Manar said. “These practices are unfair and exploitative and I’m proud to sponsor legislation that will give us the authority to crack down on bad actors.”

House Bill 465 is currently awaiting the governor’s signature.

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