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Florida's Proposed PBM Legislation: “How We Got Here” with Pharmacy Owner Ben Levene

Jan 30, 2023

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ January 12th announcement calling for tough new anti-PBM abuse laws was a surprise to many - but not the dozens of small business pharmacy owners who’ve spent years petitioning lawmakers and advocating for change.

PUTT member Ben Levene, who is also a board member of Florida Small Business Pharmacies Aligned for Reform (SPAR), shared some of his thoughts behind Gov. DeSantis seemingly “sudden” decision to pursue legislation that would curtail PBM profiteering:

Tell us about yourself and your pharmacies, and how your community has been since bearing the brunt of Hurricane Ian last September?

I'm the general manager and co-owner of two family-run and owned pharmacies in southwest Florida and actively involved in the day-to-day operations of both. Fortunately, both my pharmacies sustained minimal damage compared to the mass destruction in the area. We had a difficult few weeks after the hurricane, but found a sense of purpose helping our community and helping provide emergency medications to patients whose mail order was delayed or their chain pharmacy was closed due to staffing.

What’s it like having an independent pharmacy in Florida? How supportive has your state been on the issue of PBM overreach?

I love Florida, I've lived here for more than 30 years. The challenges of serving patients in Florida is the constant clash with PBMs: steering patients to PBM-owned pharmacies; not allowing patients to access the pharmacy of choice; or significantly underpaying on medications, and many times losing money on claims.

As of late, we are starting to gain traction in regards to reforming PBM anticompetitive practices. Over the years we have had sympathetic legislators who understood the issues we faced but were unable to get anything substantive passed because the PBM lobby was so influential. With Gov. DeSantis' leadership, we’re hopeful that meaningful change can happen to reduce costs for patients and improve access to quality healthcare for our community.

In your opinion, how did Florida pharmacy owners/advocates get to this point? Was it a matter of getting through to a key person? What was the strategy?

It wasn't one key person, but a process of educating many people in key positions that have the capability to help effectuate change. The progress thus far is a result of hard work from many of the affected independent pharmacy owners across the state: getting vocal, sharing their challenges, and inviting legislators into their pharmacies so they can see first hand how valuable a community pharmacy is in their community.

Additionally, the organized efforts of grassroots organizations, like SPAR, Florida Pharmacy Association's Academy of Pharmacy Practice Independent Section, and PUTT have been the driving force, providing the impetus to be collectively empowered. We have met and shared our stories with many great people in Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration, the House and Senate and the Governor’s office, who understand and appreciate our value. I also believe the grassroots efforts and the progress made against PBM anti-competitive practices in other states as well as MCO settlements resulting from PBM malfeasance has raised awareness at the state level.

In your opinion, what will it mean for Florida patients, payers, pharmacies/providers if the DeSantis administration is able to fully implement new legislation?

Better access to quality health care, Lower overall healthcare costs for Florida patients and Florida tax payers, more local investment and opportunities in the community, and a more sustainable future for independent pharmacies and small businesses in the state.

What has the response been from PCMA/AHIP and other members of the opposition?

I don't focus on that, to be honest. I just try to do my part by being involved and contributing to the cause and focus on what I can help control.

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