Connecticut could penalize Walgreens for blocking abortion pills

Walgreens recently announced it won’t sell the abortion pill Mifepristone in 20 states – including four states where medical abortions are legal, but only doctors can distribute the pills – after Republican attorneys general threatened a lawsuit.

John Craven

Mar 29, 2023, 11:25 PM

Updated 390 days ago

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Walgreens could be shut out of Connecticut state contracts for refusing to dispense abortion pills in other states, under a proposal Democratic lawmakers pitched Wednesday.
“This state has an obligation to do business only with companies that will stand up for their patients,” said state Rep. Matt Blumenthal (D-Stamford), co-chair of the legislature’s Reproductive Rights Caucus.
Walgreens recently announced it won’t sell the abortion pill Mifepristone in 20 states – including four states where medical abortions are legal, but only doctors can distribute the pills – after Republican attorneys general threatened a lawsuit.
Connecticut is not impacted, but Democrats said the state should put its money where its mouth is when it comes to reproductive rights.
“The state of Connecticut has tremendous buying power, and we need to use our voice to take a stand,” said state Sen. Mae Flexer (D-Killingly).
Under the bill, national pharmacy chains would lose out on new state contracts if they block access to reproductive pills – unless they can prove the medication is illegal in those states.
What qualifies as “illegal” would be up to the Connecticut attorney general’s office – and that gets murky. In some states, abortion medication is allowed but pharmacies could lose their license for dispensing it.
WALGREENS' REACTION
Walgreens declined to comment specifically on the Connecticut proposal, but the drug chain recently issued this statement:
We want to be very clear about what our position has always been: Walgreens plans to dispense Mifepristone in any jurisdiction where it is legally permissible to do so. Once we are certified by the FDA, we will dispense this medication consistent with federal and state laws. Providing legally approved medications to patients is what pharmacies do, and is rooted in our commitment to the communities in which we operate.
Retail pharmacies don't even carry Mifepristone yet.
The Food and Drug Administration only approved them to dispense the drug in January, and each chain must complete a lengthy certification process first. Until now, patients had to get abortion pills from a specialty clinic.
OTHER STATES ACTING
In neighboring New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul recently urged Walgreens to reconsider its decision. California Gov. Gavin Newsom went a step further, cutting the chain off from all state business.
POTENTIAL PROBLEMS
The bill is likely to face opposition from abortion opponents at the state Capitol, where 2,500 people attended last week's Connecticut March for Life. And nationally, a federal judge could soon overturn Mifepristone's FDA approval, leading to murky legal waters.
The bill's backers understand the risk. But with more states banning abortion, they said it's a stand Connecticut must take.
“In this post-Roe era, we are going to continue to see things change day-by-day,” said state Rep. Jillian Gilchrest (D-West Hartford), the reproductive caucus’ other chair.
IMPACT ON WALGREENS
The bill may have little impact on Walgreens’ bottom line, because the chain does very little business with the state.
“The state currently has no pharmaceutical contract with Walgreens,” said Democratic state comptroller Sean Scanlon. “However, as the administrator of the largest health plan in Connecticut, I will always ensure access to reproductive health care. When the state’s pharmacy contract goes out to bid again in 2024, we will require that any bidder provide that access.”
Walgreens does get reimbursed for Medicaid prescriptions, but the Connecticut Department of Social Services said it’s unclear how much money the chain earns.
“Any pharmacy in Connecticut can choose to enroll to participate in the Medicaid pharmacy provider program. However, each individual store/pharmacy enrolls separately, meaning that not all Walgreens stores (or CVS, or Rite Aid, etc.) are enrolled by a single contract with DSS,” said spokesperson Maura Fitzgerald. “The length of each individual contract is two years, and there is no set contract amount. Pharmacies that enroll with CT Medicaid to provide services to Connecticut's Medicaid population are paid based on an agreed-upon fee for service arrangement. Therefore, there is not a set contract amount or single contract end date that DSS can provide you.”
WHAT’S NEXT?
The legislation recently cleared the General Assembly’s Government Administration and Elections Committee along party lines. It now heads to the Connecticut House of Representatives.


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