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Rutgers student health was expected to lose $1 M. for this fiscal year, U. says

  – Photo by The Daily Targum

The Rutgers Student Health pharmacies, which are expected to close later this fall, have been losing money for the past 10 years, said Neal Buccino, a University spokesperson. 

The three pharmacies, located at Hurtado Health Center, Busch-Livingston Health Center and Cook-Douglass Health Center averaged a $300,000 deficit in recent years, which increased to more than $400,000 in the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years. Losses increased by 50% from 2015 to 2018, with prescriptions dropping by 525 a year since 2015, Buccino said.

The overall student health program was expected to reach a $1 million deficit for the 2020 fiscal year, with the meningitis B outbreak and investments in on-campus mental health care contributing to the spending. The pharmacy closures were aimed at mitigating the projected budgeted operating deficit, Buccino said. 

Still, some were skeptical about the decision to close. Some students noted that the Rutgers athletic budget, which was at $102.5 million and operates on a $29.9 million deficit as of last spring — compared to the roughly $400,000 deficit for pharmacies — was fiscal mismanagement by the University.

“I think Rutgers has enough money to pay for these resources,” said Tomomi Shore, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. “Students getting personal training or getting scholarships for being a student athlete, that's a minority of the student population. There's a larger percent of students who are sick every now and then who need to get their antibiotics. If they have to Uber somewhere else that's ridiculous.”

Others suggested that the pharmacies should have bargained harder with pharmaceutical manufacturers and wholesalers. Mahmud Hassan, a professor of finance and economics and director of pharmaceutical management at Rutgers Business School, said that the University — being a nonprofit and government institution — could have received a better deal.

“Under federal policies by government law, all manufacturers must give big discounts for medicaid and special groups,” he said. “(The) University may not be a special group by definition, but they could make a case for it.”

Buccino said that the University had negotiated lower drug prices in recent years, but national trends — like preference in mail-in orders — were ultimately too burdensome to keep the pharmacies open. But the University did not detail the negotiation process, how long it took or with what companies.

The University will also cease to provide discounted goods which were sold at pharmacies, including Plan B, condoms and cold medicine. 

When asked about the discounted goods, Buccino said that “pharmacy retail sales will end when the pharmacy closes.”

Students with Rutgers health insurance will not see a change in copayments or coverage, Buccino said. Three full-time pharmacy employees will also be laid off as a result of the closures. 

Shore, who frequently goes to Hurtado Health Center, is sad to see the pharmacies close, as she has had good experiences there, she said.

“I get to know the people working there,” Shore said. “They're really nice (and) they're good at what they do. Compared to other places I’ve been to, they've given me a really good experience.”

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