Pharmacist sees tough trade-offs during tough times


During the economic downturn of the past year, people have had to make sacrifices, at times compromising their own health care for bare necessities like food, daycare or adequate clothing.

If anyone has a front row seat on the battle between proper health care and just making ends meets, it’s the people on the sales side of the pharmacy counter.

“Prescriptions overall are down greatly-at least 10 to 15 percent,” said Ellen Ray, the pharmacy manager at the Econofoods pharmacy in Northfield. is a journalism web site covering stories about Northfield and Rice County, Minnesota — and the ways that this region connects to the state, country and world. It is created by students at Carleton College.

Since the global economic collapse in September of last year, a myriad of factors have forced many to forgo pricey prescriptions, at the risk of getting sick or further complicating a preexisting condition.

“There hasn’t really been an increase in people seeking resources like Medicaid but rather just more of an increase in lack of insurance and people having to pay cash to get their prescriptions,” said Ray.

Many of the prescriptions in question are the expensive type without which patients can suffer irreversible effects or sometimes even death. Some companies have even raised the co-payments for these vital medications.

Pricey Prescriptions

“We have a generic drug program where we offer a 100 day supply until the individual can pay,” Ray said. “There are also programs where they can charge their medication so that they have it now and pay later.”

Drug companies and pharmacies say they provide plenty of programs to help and that they have ramped up programs in response to the recession.

“Many drug companies have increased the number of coupons they’ve been handing out which gives patients a 15 to 25 dollar discount on pricier prescriptions,” said Eric Huska, a pharmacist at Northfield Cub Foods.

“Cub Foods also has a discount card but for the majority, it doesn’t really do much,” Huska said.

While the debate over health care and prescription drug reform continues, Huska stresses that the patients are the ones who suffer the most as prices go up and incomes go down.

“The private insurance companies are reaping the most from the American public,” Huska said. “They’ve driven medical costs up and they get the vast majority of the revenue when costs go up. Something needs to be done about that.”

In the recent health care reform legislation packages, prescription drug reform has been mentioned, but is not generally considered a key issue.

“Something needs to change,” said Ray. “President Obama has some good ideas but they are getting all muddled up in politics. Unfortunately, he and the other lawmakers aren’t going to be out here talking to people who are actually working in the field to see what’s going on.”