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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Senate votes to pay ‘upside participation bonus,’ protect community pharmacies

Sen. Ramón Ruiz Nieves

By The Star Staff

On its last day to pass bills Friday, the island Senate passed House Joint Resolution (HJR) 415, which allocates funds to pay the “upside participation bonus,” and a bill that seeks to protect neighborhood pharmacies.

The former measure seeks to include as part of the central government budget for fiscal year (FY) 2023 an allocation of $556.1 million from a surplus left over from FY 2022 to pay the upside participation bonus for FY 2022. Part of the money would also go toward certain sales tax payments and rum taxes.

The bill follows the terms of the commonwealth debt adjustment plan by allocating funds under the custody of the Treasury Department for $475 million to pay the upside participation bond for FY 2022. In addition, it uses $81.1 million to replenish the FY 2023 allocation for sales and use tax and rum tax contingent value instruments.

Senators also passed HJR 410 to order the Puerto Rico Health Insurance Administration (ASES by its Spanish acronym) to paralyze any procedure regarding the opening, modification or conversion of the current pharmacy network within the Vital Plan, which is the government-administered, Medicaid-funded health plan on the island. The bill also maintains the public policy of sustaining the network of existing pharmacy providers.

Popular Democratic Party Sen. Ramón Ruiz Nieves of Ponce stated that “we are talking about over 850 neighborhood pharmacies that generate 14,000 direct jobs and over 5,000 indirect jobs and have continued to provide service to about 1.3 million providers.” “Even with the problem of PBMs [pharmacy benefit managers] and payments, neighborhood pharmacies have always been present. Sometimes they spend months waiting for the provider to issue their payments, and they are still there.”

Independent Sen. José A. Vargas Vidot added that “neighborhood pharmacies are not a commercial network.”

“Instead, they are part of a public health structure,” he said.

New Progressive Party Sen. Thomas Rivera Schatz also remarked on his vote in favor of the measure.

“The large pharmacy chains that were in the Vital Plan at one point decided to turn their backs on Puerto Rico,” he said. “We see the difference in service between the large pharmacy chains and neighborhood pharmacies. … This measure warns the government not to enter into negotiations to harm community pharmacies.”

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