Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Insurance rules force local business to change

As a local business enters its 75th year, it’s going through a lot of changes. Kunkel Pharmacy is now Tri-State Compounding Pharmacy and Kunkel Medical, and they’ve stopped being a regular pharmacy.
The change wasn’t part of a new rebranding strategy – it was the result of law and insurance company changes that forced owner John Dinkelaker to sell the pharmacy portion of his business.
It all started when changes in how Medicare covers prescription drugs went into effect.
“When the insurance companies got into the fray, they said we had to be a member of a group to provide services for customers,” Dinkelaker said.
The former Kunkel Pharmacy, 7715 Beechmont Ave., was part of the preferred network until this year, when some Medicare health plans removed “any willing provider” from which pharmacies would be reimbursed by insurance companies, Dinkelaker said. That meant customers not using a preferred provider would have higher out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs.
When the new rules took effect, Dinkelaker said they lost 20-25 percent of their business in the first few months of 2014. Customers are paying for the benefit, so he understands when they have to make financial decisions to save money on prescriptions.
“It’s really bittersweet when you have to turn away your customers, but it was hard to survive when the insurance changed,” he said. “We’re totally locked out and it really hurt because we provide so much the others don’t.”
For example, his staff will deliver medications or come in after hours to fill a prescription for customers. Even with all the changes, Dinkelaker said they’re still able to compound, which is creating custom medications for people. They’re also able to continue providing medical supplies.
Lynn Schlanser, a front end manager, said it was an awful day when the changes were announced.
“It was a very difficult decision for John, and I feel sorry for the independent pharmacies,” she said. “The insurance companies shouldn’t dictate where (prescriptions can be filled). It should be the customer’s choice.”
Dinkelaker emphasized that they’re not closed, it’s just a shift for the business, which is entering the home stretch toward a century of operation.
Regular customers are aware of the changes and understand why they were made, but they don’t always like it, said Marcia Wilke, the medical supply manager who has worked there for 16 years.
“They miss the one-on-one service, knowledge and help from the staff, who are always willing to answer questions,” she said. “We’re still here and we can still help.”
The store. will still provide consultations and answer questions, and even though it’s a change, Dinkelaker said it’s a very specialized business “and we’ll still be here for quite a while.”
“We support the community and we feel like we’re part of the community. Generations of families have been our loyal customers ... (and) some chose to stay with us because we’re part of their families,” Dinkelaker said.
“I just enjoy being able to help people. When we open those doors, we know we’re going to help someone that day.”
Tri-State Compounding Pharmacy and Kunkel Medical is open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday; 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays, and closed Sundays.

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