By: Jane Turpin Moore

WORTHINGTON – When you’re a small-town business owner attempting to stay afloat in a sea of corporate giants flexing their considerable marketing and lobbying muscle, it’s tough to keep your head above water.

But Worthington pharmacist Jason Turner, owner of GuidePoint Pharmacy, isn’t waiting around for someone else to throw him a life buoy—he’s taking it upon himself to help inform U.S. legislators how the pharmaceutical industry looks from where he stands.

“I attended a meeting of the National Community Pharmacists’ Association from May 7-9 in Washington, D.C.,” said Turner, a Storden native who has worked in Worthington since 1994. “Someone told me a few years ago, ‘If you’re going to be an independent pharmacist, you have to be politically active or you have to get out.’

“Independent pharmacists have to tell our story, our honest story, because we don’t have the kind of power and money that Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) and pharmaceutical manufacturers have to throw around in D.C. — and at the state level, to some extent.”

During Turner’s May visit to D.C., he and other community pharmacists in attendance heard from diverse speakers on governmental affairs affecting pharmacies and met with legislators or their health care advisers.

“The point of going to D.C. was to try to explain the kind of system the PBMs have created regarding reimbursement processes, and how these companies make their millions,” shared Turner.

“The PBMs — which are large corporations, for the most part — set it up to coerce patients to go with mail-order prescriptions by having mail-order co-pays be less expensive, even though most retail pharmacies would accept the same reimbursement rates — they just aren’t offered the opportunity.

“Recently, the largest PBM, Express Scripts out of St. Louis, Mo., bought out the third largest PBM (Medco) for $29.1 billion.

“These companies process insurance claims, but they are clearly taking out more money from the health care system than what they would get for just a simple claims-processing fee,” asserted Turner. “This buy-out was challenged by a lot of groups because it essentially created a monopoly, but even though over 80 legislators weighed in against the merger, the Federal Trade Commission still, for some strange reason, allowed it.

“It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”

In a fortuitous follow-up to Turner’s D.C. trip, Sen. Amy Klobuchar was in Worthington last Tuesday as part of her in-state review of businesses that recently benefited from USDA loans.

When Turner expanded the GuidePoint facility three years ago, the business qualified for a USDA loan and so was one of Klobuchar’s stops.

“This was a loan that has to be repaid, not a grant, but we needed a little bit of extra financing to complete the project, and through the Worthington Regional Economic Development Corporation (WREDC), GuidePoint received a USDA loan,” clarified Turner, who rehabbed a somewhat blighted downtown area across from Sanford Worthington Medical Center as part of the effort.

Klobuchar spent nearly an hour at GuidePoint on Tuesday, hearing about how the loan made the GuidePoint project possible and also learning a little about the PBM issue that is negatively affecting GuidePoint and the roughly 20,000 other U.S. independent pharmacies still in business.

“We didn’t want to dwell on the PBMs, but we did mention some of the problems involved and encouraged Senator Klobuchar to join the Senate Pharmacy Caucus to stay abreast of breaking issues affecting community pharmacies,” said Turner.

Turner took the plunge into independent pharmacy ownership when he purchased The Medicine Shoppe in 2004. In 2009, he adopted the name GuidePoint Pharmacy and has grown his employee base from five in 2004 to 17 part- and full-time employees today, four of whom are bilingual in English and Spanish.

“There are two other pharmacists working with me — Mike Ahlers, who was originally from Fulda, and Mark Freeburg, who grew up in Garvin,” noted Turner, who earned his own pharmacy degree at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. “I did my pre-pharmacy work right here at Minnesota West, and had some great teachers.”

Turner knows that chain pharmacies can look increasingly attractive to new pharmacists because they can make as much or more money without the stress of owning a business.

“But chain pharmacists aren’t necessarily happy with the way pharmacists have to practice in those environments,” suggested Turner, noting that because prescription prices are dictated by insurance companies, prescriptions cost the same from one business to the next.

Turner appreciates the opportunities living and working in Worthington have afforded him and his family, which includes his wife, Genny, and their three children. He was a District 518 school board member from 1998-2002, formerly served on the Worthington Regional Hospital board, and is currently active on the boards of the WREDC, the Hospice Cottage, the Worthington Windsurfing Regatta and King Turkey Day.

He and Genny are also among the founding members of the Lake Okabena Improvement Association.

“I’ve found it is good for GuidePoint to be centrally located in Worthington, and a huge advantage we have over mail-order prescription services is they can never establish relationships with patients and doctors the way independents like us can,” said Turner.

“We talk with doctors multiple times daily to discuss possible drug interactions, or to see if there is an alternative prescription we can use in place of one they prescribed that isn’t covered by a patient’s insurance,” he added. “Plus, if patients have a problem with a medication or need to know something, they can walk in here and within 30 seconds be face-to-face with a health care professional to get some advice.”

GuidePoint offers free delivery in Worthington and within a 20-mile radius of the town. The pharmacy also provides compliance packaging of patients’ medications, vaccinations for influenza and shingles, fittings for diabetic shoes and post-mastectomy supplies, and carries a full line of non-prescription medicines and health care-related supplies.

“We are the only pharmacy within 60 miles of here that does compounding pharmacy, which takes pharmacy back to its roots and can make the medicine based on a physician’s order,” said Turner.

Even while keeping his eye on national pharmaceutical policy issues, making time to keep legislators informed about community pharmacies’ concerns and managing his business, Turner knows it is important to remember what is most critical to customers.

“We really focus on getting down to work, filling the prescriptions accurately and getting patients out the door,” assured Turner. “We know people have other things going on.”