Some rural independent pharmacy customers forced into big chain drugstores

“And they didn't give me any explanation"
Posted at 5:50 PM, Feb 21, 2023

HOLLAND, NY (WKBW) — A warning for seniors who prefer to have their drugs refiled at local pharmacies. They could face being shut out of independent pharmacies when they select a Medicare Advantage plan.

It already happened to some customers at the Holland Pharmacy in the Town of Holland. 

Barb Roberts, owner, Holland Pharmacy. 

“So many of them have been coming here so long, they appreciate the personal attention,” reflected Barb Roberts, owner, Holland Pharmacy. 

There is nothing more comforting than walking into a quaint, independently run pharmacy like the Holland Pharmacy where some customers have been coming for 50 years. 

But Owner and Pharmacist Roberts said about 48 of her long-time customers were recently rejected at her pharmacy because they signed with a Medicare Advantage plan through WellCare Health Plans. 

“One of the questions they were not asked is — can I continue on with Holland Pharmacy, so that was either not brought up intentionally or unintentionally,” replied Roberts. 

One customer, James Miller, tells me he received a letter from WellCare telling him he could not come to the independent pharmacy for his prescriptions.

One customer, James Miller,

“And they didn't give me any explanation why they were changing or why they were cutting out Holland,” explained Miller.

Miller has been coming to the Holland Pharmacy for years. He says he was lured into signing with WellCare at the end of 20-21 after he watched an advertisement featuring a hall-of-fame quarterback.

“I watched him all those years — can't believe he'd sell me less than true, so I made the phone call and I got in with an agent who set me up with WellCare. 

Inside Holland Pharmacy.

Miller says initially throughout 2022 he was allowed to get all his prescriptions filled at the Holland Pharmacy, but then received a notice that he must now go to a chain drug store.

“And this is just another example of closing the doors to our little store and forcing customers to go to these bigger chains,” declared Roberts. 

Miller noted how important it is to have that close relationship and caring customer service at the independent drugstore. 

Outside Holland Pharmacy.

“It's very personal. I feel as if they look after me,” Miller described. 

That's exactly what Roberts did for Miller. She learned customers have until March 31st to sign-up for their Medicare Advantage plans.  

Miller now signed with Independent Health, so he can return to his pharmacy.  Roberts says more than 20 other customers also changed plans to return to her store. 

Inside Holland Pharmacy.

WellCare issued the following statement in response to our request for comment on the matter. The company said it is "actively looking into this matter and want to assist members".

"At Wellcare, we are committed to ensuring our members have access to high-quality care and services, including access to affordable prescription drug coverage. We partner with a robust network of 60,000 pharmacies including local independent pharmacies as well as Walgreens, CVS, Amazon, and most grocers both in New York and across the country.

If you are a Wellcare member and have questions regarding your prescription drug coverage, we are available to assist you. Please contact our member services team by calling the phone number on the back of your member ID card."