Christine Lee, NBC 5 Irving Reporter
Independent pharmacies across the nation are bracing for the changes to come. UnitedHealthcare's new preferred network could mean loss of business for countless small businesses.
An Irving pharmacy says a change to a major health insurance provider's prescription plan threatens small, independently owned pharmacies.
UnitedHealthcare notified members last month of changes to its AARP MedicareRX prescription plans.
Independent pharmacists say the changes keep them out of the insurance provider's preferred retail pharmacy network, meaning customers must pay more to stay with them.
"To possibly lose them through no fault of your own -- that's really aggravating," said Brian Smith, pharmacist and owner of Big State Drug Store in downtown Irving.
Smith said that network excludes independent pharmacies like his.
"So that means my 100-plus patients, if they want to continue to use my store, it'll cost them more money than if they go to a store that is in their network," he said.
In a statement, UnitedHealthcare reps said its preferred pharmacy network provides members with more than 14,600 locations nationwide, including 360 in the Metroplex.
Prescription sales make up about 90 percent of Big State Drug Store's business. That is the case for most independently owned pharmacies throughout the country, according to the National Community Pharmacists Association.
Mitchell McPherson, who has been a customer since 1999, said he is willing to pay the extra cost as long as he can afford it.
"It's an extension of my family, in both service and personalities," he said.
Pharmacists said they hope there can be a happier ending.
"We've grown relationships with these people and to see them go off just because the insurance companies are forcing them to -- and we don't get to have that relationship anymore -- that's ... huge," pharmacist Kim Heaton said.