Rural pharmacies in Illinois are receiving financial support from cannabis taxes earmarked for the state’s ‘rainy day fund,’ officials announced recently. Illinois State Comptroller Susana Mendoza announced last month that nearly $1 million would be released to critical access pharmacies providing essential services to rural communities during the ongoing public health emergency.

“Our ongoing effort to support rural pharmacies that are being squeezed out by unfair competition and managed care policies now takes on added importance as communities fight the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus,” Mendoza said on March 19 in a press release.

The payments, totaling $946 million, came from cannabis taxes paid each month into the state’s rainy day fund, a cash reserve maintained to cover expenses during difficult financial times. The cannabis taxes paid into the fund in March came to a total of $1.1 million.

The funds were directed to an existing program designed to support rural pharmacies that receive low reimbursements from the state’s managed care programs and are subject to being taken advantage of by companies that set prices for drugs. The state began making payments to these critical access pharmacies in July with a release of $4.7 million, followed by another $1.9 million in December. The payments announced by Mendoza last month were made to rural pharmacies ahead of schedule to provide relief during the economic downturn brought on by the coronavirus outbreak.

“Locally owned pharmacies – often the only pharmacies available for miles in any direction – are vital to stopping the spread of the coronavirus in rural communities,” said Mendoza. “It’s more important than ever that we ensure these payments continue to go out so these small businesses can continue to be there for the people they serve.”

Garth Reynolds, the executive director of the Illinois Pharmacists Association, said that rural drug stores affected by the current economic conditions had sought relief from the comptroller’s office.

“Comptroller Mendoza recognizes the unfair business practices that have pushed pharmacies to the financial brink and inability to properly serve their patients,” he said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is a prime example of why community pharmacists are vital frontline health care providers in delivering medication and patient care services,” Reynolds added. “Critical access pharmacies will use the released funds to keep their doors open during the pandemic and serve their patients’ needs.”

While the coronavirus outbreak has led to critical shortages of some medical supplies at hospitals, Reynolds said that pharmacies are not experiencing shortages of medications. He urged Illinois consumers to support rural pharmacies, suggesting that they take advantage of drive-thru pickup or delivery service, when available.

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