Up & Coming Weekly

December 22, 2020

Up and Coming Weekly is a weekly publication in Fayetteville, NC and Fort Bragg, NC area offering local news, views, arts, entertainment and community event and business information.

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Page 11 of 24

WWW.UPANDCOMINGWEEKLY.COM DECEMBER 23-29, 2020 UCW 11 Taxpayers reminded of deadline to pay property taxes, listings a STAFF REPORT Pharmacist Darius Russell, owner of Russell's Pharmacy and Shoppe in Durham, hopes to stop losing money on helping patients. Russell is an independent pharmacist, and he has little negotiating power with the middlemen that control the supply chain of prescription drugs. But change is coming. e U.S. Supreme Court gave states the power to regulate the companies that negotiate between insurers and pharmacies, otherwise known as pharmacy benefit managers — the jargon for middlemen. e court unanimously ruled in favor of Arkansas' regulatory reforms ursday, Dec. 10. e ruling has cleared the way for more aggressive state regulations. Depending on who's talking, the Supreme Court gave states the opportunity either to reform crony monopolies, or to empty consumers' wallets. "It used to be rare that you'd lose money on a prescription that you'd fill," Russell said. "Hopefully, there is some hope there and a light at the end of the tunnel for pharmacies not to be eaten out by the big PBMs." After Arkansas' victory in court, N.C. pharmacist Rep. Wayne Sasser, R-Stanly, has plans. Sasser says an era of "smoke and mirrors" is over. He hopes to bring transparency to an opaque indus- try, and pharmacy benefit managers can no longer deflect his efforts with federal law. He wants to launch an audit of the middlemen and to protect independent pharmacies. e move could save consumers tens of millions of dollars, if not more. "at was probably the biggest thing to happen in pharmacy in my career, and I've been doing this for 45 years. So it's big," Sasser told Carolina Journal. "ey've got nothing to hide behind now." e pharmacy benefit managers have a tarnished public image. ey stand accused of inflating the out-of-pocket cost of prescription drugs, making medications unaffordable. e charges against them have their own irony — PBMs were created to help insurers and consumers save money. ree PBMs control more than 70% of all claims volume, and many also run their own pharmacy services. Critics blast them as vertical oligopolies. Basically, large pharmacy chains — including Walmart, CVS, and Walgreens — buy such huge amounts of prescription drugs that they can negoti- ate better deals. Independent pharmacies pay more to stock drugs, so the slice that PBMs take off the top cuts the little guys' sales margins. Independent pharmacies that take health insurance often can't compete with the big boys. Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge charged the benefit managers of "abusive" practices that drove 16% of independent rural pharmacies out of business. Rutledge accused the PBMs of profiting off the "spread" between what they charged the state and what they actually paid pharmacies. Arkansas tried to save its remaining independent pharmacies by requiring PBMs to reimburse phar- macies' wholesale costs, at a minimum. e managers fought back, but the state won at the Supreme Court, opening the door for new regu- lations. Now that the Supreme Court bolstered states' au- thority to regulate PBMs, North Carolina lawmakers are itching to exercise that power. Sasser is leading the charge in the General Assembly. "Personally, I don't like monopolies," Sasser said. "But we have them — utilities, banks, health care insurers. ey don't compete against each other. ere's enough money that they're happy. But they're regulated. PBMs aren't." Sympathetic to his cause is recently re-elected Commissioner of Insurance Mike Causey, who wields regulatory control over insurers. Causey says fighting for health care transparency is a major focus for this term. "We need to have accountability," Causey said. "We need to have as much transparency as possible. We don't need to have these private equity firms making huge chunks of money and not disclosing where it's going." e last time lawmakers pushed to audit them, middlemen warned that consumers would bear the cost of reforms. ey argued that requiring middle- men to reimburse pharmacies for wholesale costs would drive up premiums. e bill passed both the House and the Senate, but sank after the two chambers failed to agree on the final version. Other states have crunched the numbers, and they didn't like what their audits found. Ohio terminated all its Medicaid PBMs after it audited them. e state's Medicaid PBMs pocketed $224.8 million by charging the state more than it paid pharmacies in just one year, Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost found. Florida's Medicaid PBMs raked in more than $89 million with similar tactics. e analysts recom- mended fixing PBM contracts. North Carolina has no way of knowing its situa- tion. e state hasn't run any recent audits on the middlemen. Lawmakers aim to change that. "To me, it's all about consumer choice and mak- ing sure our small business owners and pharmacies get a fair shake," Causey said. "And I think that's all they're asking for, no special treatment. ey're just asking to be treated fairly." Independent pharmacies welcome SCOTUS ruling on benefits managers by JULIE HAVLAK NEWS JULIE HAVLAK, Carolina Journal News Service. COMMENTS? editor@upandcomin- gweekly.com. 910-484-6200. e Cumberland County Tax Administration Office reminds citizens that property taxes for real estate and personal property listed in January 2020 will be delinquent if not paid by Jan. 5, 2021. Interest and enforced collections such as bank levy, wage/rent garnishments, and/or foreclosure, will begin on Jan. 6, 2021. Inter- est and collection fees will be added to the tax amount due. Tax bills may be paid online, by mail, phone or in person at the Judge E. Maurice Braswell Cumberland County Courthouse, 117 Dick St. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, anyone entering the Courthouse is required to wear a mask or face covering and to receive a temper- ature check. Taxpayers are encouraged to pay their bills online, by mail or phone. County Government offices and the Court- house will be closed Dec. 24-28 for the Christ- mas holiday. Offices will again be closed on Jan. 1 for New Year's Day. e last week of the year is extremely busy for the office with taxpayers seeking receipts by Dec. 31 for 2020 income tax filing purposes. Taxpayers may go to co.cumberland.nc.us/ tax/payments to pay online with an elec- tronic check, debit card or major credit card. For payments made by card, there is a sepa- rate service fee of 2.65%, or minimum of $2, whichever is greater, which will appear on your statement. ere is no fee for electronic checks. Taxpayers may also make payments (checks only) using the drop box located outside room 530 near the customer service entrance of Tax Administration on the 5th floor of Court- house. If you have questions before paying the bill, please send them by email to taxweb@ co.cumberland.nc.us or call 910-678-7507 prior to dropping off your payment or paying online. Payments are collected from the drop box three times every business day. To pay by phone, call 1-866-441-6614. e address to pay taxes by mail is Cumberland County Tax Collector, P.O. Box 449, Fayetteville, NC 28302-0449. Mailed pay- ments must be made with a check or money order payable to Cumberland County Tax Collector. e 2021 annual property tax listing period begins Jan. 1 and runs through Jan. 31. Listing forms must be updated, signed and returned and must be postmarked no later than Jan. 31 to avoid the 10 percent late listing fee. Email addresses to contact the tax office include: taxweb@co.cumberland.nc.us military@co.cumberland.nc.us taxcollector@co.cumberland.nc.us For more information, call 910-678-7507 or visit co.cumberland.nc.us/tax. e fax number is 910-678-7582.

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