Why are neighborhood pharmacies disappearing? Ask the Noriega Family.

Lissette CamposJuly 15, 2020

I arrived at Bill’s Prescription Center in Brandon an hour early, half expecting to find a quiet operation with the owner prepping for our television interview. After all, how busy can they be? I’m here because neighborhood pharmacies like this one, close to 100 in the Tampa Bay area alone, are in danger of closing. Common sense would have you believe the disappearing act is caused by a lack of customers. Three minutes in, I realized there’s nothing common sense about this situation. A steady stream of customers didn’t just walk in for their medicines, they arrived for, what felt like, a family reunion! “Hi Basil? How are you?” asked one woman, smiling under her face mask. “How’s your Dad?” asked a gentleman. “I love this place!” another customer whispered my way. “…been my pharmacy for years.” – the microphone in my hand inspiring her confession. Behind the counter, John “Basil” Noriega, II, multi-tasked – not missing a beat between dispensing meds and kindness to his customers.

Again and again, customers asked him about family, friends, and shared their own stories about quarantine and grandkids. I watched the scenes play out in amazement. Customers don’t just rely on these pharmacists, they LOVE them! Why, then, are they in danger of closing?

The answer lies in a complicated web of managed healthcare and the pharmacy benefits managers (PBMs) hired to administer prescription drug programs. PBMs negotiate the prices on drugs, create “networks” of pharmacies, and, in some cases, have a financial stake in the pharmacy chains they affiliate with.

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