While changes to the county’s prescription drug plan may save money, officials say it will also have an impact on local pharmacies.

In 2018, the Glynn County Commission voted to require employees to use the MedVantx mail-order service specifically for 90-day supplies of maintenance medication, as opposed to engaging with local pharmacies. The switch took effect on Jan. 1 and is estimated to save the county around $55,000.

The county’s personnel committee recommended the county commission approve the move in August 2018, which the commission did later that month.

While 90-day maintenance medication is a small portion of pharmaceuticals the county’s health insurance covers — and employees can still to go to local pharmacies for a 30-day supply of medication — county officials now say the switch to MedVantx could impact local pharmacies by as much as $93,300.

The personnel committee once again discussed the merits of mail-order drugs last Monday during a discussion of whether or not to drop the requirement.

Orah Reed, county human resources manager, explained the issue to the committee.

“Based on the first half of January, PharmAvail — that’s our pharmacy benefits manager — said that the estimated impact would be $93,300 (per year) to local pharmacies,” Reed said at the committee meeting.

PharmaAvail also provided the $55,000 savings estimate, which is contingent upon the county continuing to use the mail-order system, Reed added.

County Chief Financial Officer Tonya Miller said the county is constantly dealing with rising drug costs, and the switch to mail order seemed like a good way to reduce those costs at the time.

“Those prescription drugs are over our budget all the time because the cost of them are rising. We are continually trying to find the best bang for our buck on both those and our health care costs. That was one of the costs that were presented to us at the personnel committee meeting last December, and it was a good idea then,” Miller told the personnel committee on Monday.

The personnel committee ultimately decided not to make any recommendations on the matter to the county commission, opting to bring it forward for further discussion at the commission’s next meeting.

Committee member Peter Murphy said at the meeting that the benefits to county employees are as much a factor as cost savings and the impact on local businesses.

He asked a county staff member at the meeting about whether or not it saves employees money or only the county.

Terri Small, with the county human resources department, responded that the employees pay less than they would at retail, but not much less.

“The employee is benefitting to some degree. Now it’s not huge dollars, but then the county is saving roughly $55,000,” Murphy said.

Glynn County Commissioner Bill Brunson said on Wednesday that he brought up the issue after hearing concerns from the public.

“I just want us to be very conscious of our local vendors. They have financial investments here, they have employees here, they have bricks and mortar. And I’m not just talking about local pharmacies, I’m talking about Walmart and Walgreens and CVS and Target,” Brunson said.

Some local pharmacies say they are already feeling the consequences of the choice.

“We haven’t had a ton of people (stop coming yet), because they got 90-days in December, but we have seen some,” said Matt Donato, pharmacist and owner of Golden Isles Pharmacy.

While he’s seen some county employees come in for 30-day medication supplies, Donato said he expects to see the number drop over time if the county keeps the mail-order requirement. Getting a 90-day supply is usually cheaper and more convenient.

“Most people like doing 90-days, because they don’t have to come back here as often and it saves them money in the long run,” Donato said.

Michael Lewis, with Altama Discount Pharmacy, said it’s too soon to say, but he expected the change to impact his business in some way eventually.

“It’s too early to tell, but we are hoping the county will reconsider,” Lewis said.

Even if the county returned to patronizing local pharmacies, Murphy argued at the personnel committee meeting that the potential $93,300 revenue would be spread across multiple pharmacies. The benefits to each individual business may be small in comparison to the total, he said.

“My concern about voiding this potential cost savings to the county government is the fact that prescription drugs are not declining in price. It’s not like they’re getting cheaper toward the end of the year,” Murphy said.

As new drugs and treatments become available and costs rise, Murphy said the county may end up saving more money in the long run than projections based on current prices.

The Glynn County Commission is expected to discuss the issue at its next meeting on Feb. 21.

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