Molokai Pharmacy At Risk

Quality of health care is also at stake as community rallies to convince state agency not to restrict union members from doing business with the island’s only drug store.

By Molokai Dispatch Staff

A state-wide plan could require Molokai union members to order prescriptions through the mail. Unless Molokai is granted an exemption from the plan, the island’s only pharmacy, Molokai Drugs, could teeter on the brink of closure, according to the establishment’s owners.

A few weeks ago, the greater Molokai community became aware that the Hawaii Employer-Union Health Benefits Trust Fund (EUTF) had entered into a contract with InformedRx, Inc, a mainland-based company. The move will prevent members of United Public Workers (UPW) and Hawaii Government Employees Association (HGEA) from filling their maintenance drug prescriptions at Molokai Drugs.

Prescriptions will have to be filled through the mail with the mainland company.

If Union members have any questions about their medicines, they will be required to consult with InformedRx employees over the phone instead of being able to talk with a friendly, highly-experienced staff pharmacists at Molokai Drugs.

“Hawaii residents as a whole patronize their local pharmacies more than the national average,” said Kimberly Mikami Svetin, President of Molokai Drugs. “But in the new plan, you call a national office in Illinois and you can never talk to the same person.”

EUTF is a state agency established in 2003.  It provides eligible state and county employees and retires and their dependents with health insurance. A 10-member Board of Trustees runs the organization. Five of the trustees represent the employers (county and state) and five trustees represent union members.

Down to Business

Svetin noted in a letter to George Kaho’ohanohano, Chairman of EUTF’s Board of Trustees, that Molokai Drugs works with many other insurance groups such as Kaiser, HSMA, Summerlin and Medco and that if these plans also converted to mandatory mail order, Molokai Drugs would lose 65% of their business. She said they would be forced to either close their doors or lay off many of their employees.

The change would also affect Lanai.

The neighbor island has no pharmacy and relies heavily on the services provided by the Molokai Drugs staff, according to a letter the Lanai Community Health Center sent in to EUTF. The letter requests ETUF trustees to “exempt Lanai and Molokai EUTF residents [from the mandatory mail-in] and allow them to obtain their prescriptions from Molokai Drugs.”

Currently, UPW and HGEA members on Lanai and Molokai have a choice of using the mail-in services offered by InformedRx, or use Molokai Drugs to fill their prescription needs.  And most want things to stay the way they are.

Molokai Reacts

Upon learning of the pending contract, union members and other Molokai residents were quick to respond to ETUF with phone calls, letters and petitions calling for an exemption from the mandatory mail order program.

“People are used to coming in and getting their refill last minute,” said Svetin. But under the new plan, she explained, you must order medication one month in advance.

 “Molokai Drugs has always been there for our community,” said life-long Molokai resident Billy Akutagawa in a letter to EUTF. Akutagawa is an EUTF member and Executive Director of Na Pu’uwai, Molokai’s community-based Native Hawaiian Health Care System.

Akutagawa said he was concerned that allowing the mandatory mail-order to proceed for UPW and HGEA union members will just be the beginning of other companies and insurance plans affecting Molokai people and their right to choose who they want to provide pharmaceutical services for their families.

Molokai union members reportedly have alerted UPW State Director Dayton Nakanelua and HGEA Executive Director Randy Perreira about their concerns with the mandatory mail-order program.

HGEA member Victoria “Puni” Burrows wrote EUTF and said that if the company forces her to go mail order, her plan “is to switch insurance plans so that my family can continue to benefit from the superior health care service we have been receiving from the Mikami family at Molokai Drugs.”

As a result of the strong response from Molokai opposing the mandatory mail-order program, the matter has been placed on the ETUF board of trustees’ July 15 meeting agenda.

Big Money for Mainland Companies

InformedRx Inc. stands to make big money from its contract with EUTF if its agreement is similar to those the company has with municipalities and other employer-union groups. Business Week noted that InformedRx expects annual revenues of $80 million and $50 million a year from two contracts it recently negotiated in California.

InformedRx is affiliated with SXC Health Solutions Corporation, a large provider of pharmacy benefit management services headquartered in Lisle Illinois.  SXC, a company that enjoys generous profit margins, saw its revenues skyrocket last year from $89.2 million in 2007 to $859 million.

A Molokai UPW union member provided information he downloaded from Forbes magazine showing that SXC's 49-year old President, Mark Theirer, received total compensation of $2,031,385.

“These mainland companies will be hauling in a lot of money off this deal with EUTF,” said one frustrated UPW member. “My question is who is looking out for us and our families here on Molokai. We’re the ones having to sacrifice the quality of our health care so these mainland companies rake in their dollars.”

Molokai Drugs was established in 1935 by Richard Sakata, and since that time, three generations of his family have continued to serve the Molokai community. The company employs three pharmacists and 15 other employees, and will celebrate its 75th anniversary next year.

For more on Molokai Drugs and its service to our community read the 2005 Maui News article at the following link:


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