and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation


Barbara's Column
January 2003 #3

Legislature won't be satisfied until
it drives all pharmacies out of business

by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, January 16, 2003

I like to think I'm not one of those who longs for "the good old days." But there is one institution from my youth that I cherish -- the little local drugstore.

There were two in my hometown in western Pennsylvania. Both of them had a soda fountain. My aunt preferred Widdie's, so each Friday when Aunt Cedey did her weekly shopping, she and I would meet after school and go there for a cherry ice cream soda.

Like all my aunts, Cedey's gone now, and I cherish the memory of that booth and our conversations.

My first high school job was at Neddy's, the other drugstore. Of course I learned to make sodas and milkshakes, and to advise male customers on a choice of perfume for a gift. But what really made me feel grown-up was taking prescription orders for the two pharmacist brothers who owned the store.

My first day on the job I was taken aside and quietly told by a female clerk that "if anyone comes in and asks for anything that seems 'funny,' call the druggist immediately." Eventually I found out that the "funny" things were called "contraceptives" and were kept in a lower drawer that I (like Pandora?) was never to open. I pictured something like a small bear trap, don't ask me why. Being taught by nuns in a Catholic school didn't do much for your sex education.

I also remember that the druggist knew everyone's health history (and in a small town, the rest of our histories too); would answer questions no matter how personal; would double-bag the "sanitary products"; and would deliver prescriptions to our one-car homes when dad was at work.

These memories are probably the reason I have always given my adult business to similar local drugstores, even though, sadly, the soda fountains are long gone.

There is nothing wrong with the big chain stores, or buying through the mail. I just like knowing my druggists know me and my family and can dispense good generic advice about all kinds of things, along with my prescriptions.

This is why the new pharmacy tax makes me crazy.

Note to Attorney General "never mind crime, give me a lawsuit against businesses" Tom Reilly: The new assessment on pharmacies is a TAX.

Our commonwealth TAXES each prescription and yes, pharmacies are passing the TAX on to consumers. Grow up, Tom, and read a basic economics textbook.

Some citizens called their local senators and reps late last year about this new tax, as well as the proposed cuts in Medicaid reimbursements for the pharmacies and the tax on nursing home beds, only to be told that they hadn't known what they were voting on. That kind of communication is always such a defining moment in the relationship between the governing and the governed.

Constituents who actually heard that phrase from the mouth of the horses' behinds can now appreciate more fully why some House members believe they should get a pay raise this year.

But I digress. The spin now is that the state needed the money to pay Medicaid bills, or we'd lose federal reimbursement. They make it sound like this prescription drug tax is the federal government's fault.

The truth is, the feds will reimburse the money the state spends on Medicaid, no matter how the money is raised -- and it should come from our existing, fourth-highest-in-the=nation tax levy, not sick people who need medicines.

So some understandably outraged pharmacies were putting signs at their counters telling their customers whom they should blame for this new tax, and Attorney General Reilly told them to stop because, he said, this is an assessment, not a tax, and the pharmacies don't have to pass it on.

Right, Tom! No business has to pass on a tax to its customers;: it can eat all the taxes and close down instead. Small pharmacies are more likely to go out of business than the chains, though to their credit some of the big chains are fighting back too.

Because of their activism, I won't really mind taking my business to them after the state government has destroyed the local family drugstore -- unless the state threatens to reduce Medicaid reimbursements again and even the big pharmacies decide they can't do business here either.

But for as long as I can get my prescriptions filled somewhere (Canada?) and remain among the living, I will miss my druggists at the little pharmacy within walking distance of my house. I'll remember them fondly, along with those childhood recollections of sodas at Widdie's and that secret something, I'm still not sure what, that resided in the bottom drawer at Neddy's.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News and the Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in other newspapers.

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