New health plan for town workers hits local pharmacy

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BEACON FALLS — The owners of the local pharmacy felt miffed when the town’s new health insurance plan cut them out of the loop last month.

“It’s very frustrating when people want to come to you and do business with you and the government forces them to go elsewhere,” said Robert Bradley, who owns Beacon Falls Pharmacy with his wife, pharmacist Marion Bradley.

Because of an impending 27 percent premium increase, Beacon Falls and Prospect were forced to leave Region 16’s insurance plan through Anthem when it was up at the end of June, Beacon Falls First Selectman Christopher Bielik said.

The towns used to pool together with Region 16, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, for health insurance.

Bielik contacted the town’s former broker, who came up with two options.

One was a similar Anthem plan for the smaller group of fewer than 50 employees. The other was the Connecticut Partnership Plan, which is offered to state and municipal employees.

Robert Bradley said he holds Gov. Dannel Malloy responsible for the state health care plan, which requires users to use mail order pharmacies. Customers can still pick up their prescriptions at some physical locations that also have a mail order business, like CVS.

“The union rep was pushing very hard for this one,” Bradley said. “This is the same or similar plan to the one that Malloy forced upon the state employees several years ago. When he did that we lost 90 longtime good customers. That never should’ve happened.”

Although state law forbids mandatory mail order, there is a loophole that allows self-insured plans to get around the law.

Although Beacon Falls Pharmacy was a participating vendor under Anthem, it could not take part in the Connecticut Partnership Plan without taking a loss.

“We’re in business to make a profit, and the plan which the state has is structured in such a way that we would take a loss on virtually every prescription we filled,” Bradley said.

The Anthem plan was a high-deductible health care plan and the Connecticut Partnership Plan was a co-pay and point-of-service plan, Bielik said.

The town’s three bargaining units — police, public works, and town hall unions — voted to switch to the CPP plan.

With the town now on the same plan, Bradley said he’s lost another dozen customers.

“It takes a long time to earn the business of a customer and when they get taken away, it’s just very frustrating,” Bradley said.

Bradley said if not for mandatory mail order, his business would be double what is it is now, allowing him to hire more employees and do more to support the town.

Bielik said the broker told them that Beacon Falls Pharmacy wasn’t participating in that plan.

Under the new plan, employees agreed to increase their premium share from 11.5 percent to 17.5 percent so the cost to the town would be the same.

Bernadette Dionne, vice president of the Town Hall union, said that although she has private insurance through Aetna, she also recently lost her ability to get her prescriptions from Beacon Falls Pharmacy.

“I was in tears. I was so upset, but there’s nothing you can do,” Dionne said. “Whatever I can buy there, I do buy.”

The bigger chain pharmacies don’t care about their customers, Dionne said.

“It’s a sad situation and I feel very bad for the Bradleys,” Dionne said. “The little guys don’t have a chance. I’d hate to lose the pharmacy because they’re so, so good. Doesn’t make any difference if you’re rich, poor or in between. They’re there for you.”

Tom Carey, president of the Public Works union, said his union chose the new plan because it offered better benefits.

“The last few contracts had done nothing but gone downhill for our insurance. We lost quite a bit and we were looking to better ourselves,” Carey said. “In the long run, it seemed like it’s less out of pocket for us.”

Even if employees change their minds or rates increase, they are locked into the new plan for the next three years, Bielik said.

“It would cost the town additional money for the privilege of escaping in the next three years. I’d imagine that’s unlikely,” Bielik said.