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Smart Talk, June 5



Pharmacies threatened


One-quarter of Arkansas pharmacies are in danger of closing, according to a new study released by trade groups the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and the Food Marketing Institute. Arkansas sources say the danger is real.

The federal Deficit Reduction Act is a Bush administration effort to cut Medicaid costs. It sets new, lower reimbursement rates for pharmacies that sell prescription drugs to Medicaid patients. According to NACDS and FMI (which represents pharmacies in supermarkets), the greatly reduced rates of the DRA would force many pharmacies out of business, and in many cases, such as in rural Arkansas, the pharmacy that would close is the only pharmacy in the area. Low-income Medicaid patients would have to seek drugs elsewhere or do without. The study says that the closing of 26 percent (184 stores) of Arkansas pharmacies would result in the loss of 2,700 jobs and $233 million to the Arkansas economy.

Scott Pace of the Arkansas Pharmacists Association said that reimbursement rates set by the DRA wouldn't allow Arkansas pharmacies to break even on Medicaid prescriptions. State Sen. Percy Malone of Arkadelphia, a pharmacist, said that many of the areas that would lose pharmacies have already lost hospitals and doctors, leaving the local pharmacy as the main health-care provider. Pace said that litigation in federal court has so far kept the DRA rates from taking effect. Malone said the Arkansas congressional delegation also is working to stave off the new rates.


Who needs election day?


Who needs exit polls and election-night watch parties? If you want to get a pretty good idea of who's going to win a political race — at least in Pulaski County — just check the results of early voting, and feel free to go on to bed.

Candidates who are ahead in early votes generally go on to win, said Susan Inman, director of the Pulaski County Election Commission. That was certainly the case in the May 20 primary and judicial races: Out of 16 contests, 13 were won by the candidates who were ahead in early voting. That included the six-way race for Pulaski County district judge in Wrightsville, where the candidates finished in the exact same order overall as they had in early voting.

The misses, in case you're curious: Justice of the Peace District 8, where Curtis Keith edged out incumbent Ann McCaleb by 15 votes overall but was well behind in early voting; Circuit Judge District 6, where early voting had Melinda Gilbert ahead of eventual leader Cathi Compton (Jewel “Cricket” Harper was third in both); and Little Rock District Judge Division 1, where Alice Lightle won the early vote but came in second overall to Hugh Finkelstein (again, the third-place finisher, Ernest Sanders Jr., was correctly predicted by early voting).


Library parking


The Arkansas Blog discovered last week that the former Dillard's headquarters building at 900 W. Capitol Ave. had been sold by its owner, the Union Rescue Mission, to a pair of Dallas developers who are working on a lease-purchase deal with the Arkansas Building Authority. More than half the 110,000 square feet would be taken by the Arkansas State Library. The deal will likely close when another state agency — the state History Commission is one being considered — is lined up to commit to the space. It will lease for about $14 a square foot after a thorough renovation, Authority director Anne Laidlaw said. The increased cost of leasing will be offset somewhat by at least 90 parking spaces, something in short supply at the library's current home in the Big Mac building behind the Capitol. It also will free Big Mac space, perhaps for offices that state representatives have long wanted. Union Rescue Mission, which had dropped plans to move to the building on account of neighborhood opposition, lost $400,000 on the building, which it bought for $1.2 million.


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