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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Transfer Coupons

Let's just say that these piss me right the hell off.  Pardon my English, but I don't speak French.  Where else, in a professional world, can you do business where your life is at stake and, oh yeah, could you take my coupon, please?  When was the last time you needed heart surgery, called around for the lowest price, and asked Dr. Zoffis "thanks for the cheap price, can I also get a $25 gift card since I picked you?"  Some things should just be illegal and I thought State Boards were in place to look out for everyone's best interest.  Apparently I was wrong.  See, the State of Ohio has a Board that has no balls.  I don't mean it's emasculated, I mean it's a giant eunuch.  Our law book is the size of a set of encyclopedias, A-Z.  In it are all the things we as pharmacists cannot do.  It takes two pages to describe what a prescription is.  To say it is verbose does not do wordiness justice.  I need a lawyer to translate it to me.  Anyway, the rules have never been about pharmacists; they've always deferred to customers first.  While there are many rules on the books that have been beneficial, the one enacted January 1, 2011 limiting patients to one transfer per prescription was their best yet.  Unfortunately, since our state Board sees pharmacy as no longer a profession but a business, they are in the process of reversing this rule.  Ohio's Board has received a number of complaints over the years from pharmacists that coupons are a problem and the Board needed to take a stand.  After many years, the best they could do was limiting transfers to one time.  What a way to take a stand without actually committing to something.  It was precisely this thinking that has allowed them to back away from this rule now without saying they were wrong, or right.  They have retreated under consumer pressure.  The arguments against the rule were basically anti-competition and inconvenience.  Boo-f-ing-hoo.
We're not talking about the lowest price on an iPod or a 2-for-1 deal on Cheerios here.  Patients are using their medicines to make money.  Period.  Anti-competition?  Bullshit.  In NY and NJ, coupons are outlawed, explicitly.  You cannot incentivize using prescriptions.  In one of my stores, 5% of my weekly total was transferred either in or out for nearly a year.  As a solo pharmacist, that's a lot of extra work spent on the phone just so some guy can use his mom's 14 medications to get $25 from every retail outlet in the city.  People admit they're only coming to us for the coupons.  The retention rate on coupons is around 20%.  How about I get some extra help so I can provide better service so people will enjoy coming to me as a pharmacist instead of the dirty little whore that you've made me?
 The media and the Board of course disagree with me.  The original reason the Board gave for ushering in the new rule was patient safety: the more you transfer a prescription, the higher the risk of an error.  Exactly, just like the old telephone game you played as kids.  Only with medicine that affects people's lives.  Bollocks!
What exactly caused all of this to go so wickedly out of control?  Was it a single competitor trying to establish market-share or a foothold in a new area?  Was it one of those "seemed like a good idea at the time" situations?  I know for a fact that one company, when asked why they were in the coupon business, said "everyone else is doing it and we need a chip to play at the same table".  Comforting.  No one is willing to take a stand on this issue, not the pharmacies, not the Board, not any government agency.  Why?  If other states can outlaw coupons, why can't Ohio?  A previous blog entry noted that "that Harrisburg-based company" now has a 15-minute guarantee and advertises they have your health and wellness as their top priority.  How is this true?  Pharmacies cannot have this as a top priority, nor can the Ohio Board if they continue to push pharmacy toward the brink.  Pharmacists are overworked, understaffed, and expected to undertake other projects to meet business goals.  I get it.  It is a business.  But it is a healthcare business.  We need to actually act like we care instead of saying it out one side of our mouths while telling people to bring us a coupon out the other side.

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