LANSING (AP) — Local pharmacies in Michigan hope to sell and distribute prescription drugs by mail, but they do not think legislation lifting the state’s mail-order ban goes far enough.

A bill approved yesterday in the state Senate would let in-state pharmacies fill prescriptions received by mail.

Currently, those pharmacies cannot use mail-order services because they face a $5,000 fine for each violation.

Supporters say the bill, approved 31-5, would help pharmacies compete as employers increasingly nudge state employees, autoworkers and retired teachers toward drugs filled by large mail-order and Internet pharmacies. It’s a good first step toward leveling the playing field, they say.

“Whenever possible, I think the state should be doing business with Michigan-based companies,” said Sen. Virg Bernero, (D-Lansing), the bill’s sponsor. “It helps keep jobs and economic activity right here at home.”

The bill, however, is not supported by pharmacists like Fred Nelson, who owns pharmacies in Schoolcraft, Three Rivers and Vicksburg.

Nelson said the legislation is flawed because it does not allow pharmacies to participate in centralized filling, where mail-order and chain pharmacies use machines to fill thousands of prescriptions per day from a warehouse.

The process is becoming more popular as the volume of prescriptions soars, and mail-order companies can more efficiently fill large numbers of prescriptions.

“It would let us partner with them so they could ship the prescriptions right back to the pharmacy,” said Nelson, who noted he lost two prescription orders to out-of-state mail-order firms yesterday.

Greg Baran, director of governmental affairs for the pharmacy group, said lawmakers are mistaken to think the bill would help existing Michigan pharmacies.

“It does nothing to allow community pharmacies to compete or participate with any of the mail-order programs,” he said.

Baran said pharmacy benefit managers, who administer prescription drug plans for millions of Americans, have their own mail-order firms and try to lure local pharmacists’ customers away.

Three Democrats and two Republicans voted against the bill. The Democrats were Sens. Irma Clark-Coleman, Hansen Clarke and Buzz Thomas of Detroit.

“If the intent is to level the playing field, we should level it,” Thomas said, explaining that many Detroiters use neighborhood pharmacies.

The Republicans voting no were Sens. Tom George of Kalamazoo County’s Texas Township and Shirley Johnson of Royal Oak.

George said the bill might only encourage existing, large mail-order pharmacies to set up shop rather than help smaller pharmacies struggling to keep up.

Democratic Sens. Jim Barcia of Bay City and Raymond Basham of Taylor were absent and didn’t vote.

The bill now heads to the House.

 

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