'Pharmacy desert' concerns arise on south, west sides of Chicago

Health experts are calling on Illinois to make some changes after the state's contracted Medicare prescription provider dropped Walgreens.

The state says the south and west sides of Chicago have pharmacies in reach, but health experts on the front lines say the issue is access and it could have lasting consequences.

Fred Grissett, 54, lives in a shelter and uses a cane. He told his doctor that his prescription couldn't be filled at a close-by Walgreens because his insurance changed.

Now, he has to find a way to the 2400 block of West Chicago Avenue, which is more than a mile away.

"I’ve had several patients not able to get their medications for psychiatric conditions or their treatment for their substances disorder," said Dr. Thomas Huggett of Lawndale Christian Health Center.

Doctor Huggett says the 14,000 Medicaid recipients on the west side don’t own cars and many can’t afford public transportation.

"They are not able to get there," he said.

CVS acquired AETNA two years ago. However, on December 1st of this year, AETNA made CVS the preferred pharmacy in Illinois.

You can go other places, but the copay could be more.

Now, health experts say this has created a "pharmacy desert."

CVS and AETNA disagree, saying their "pharmacy network includes other national pharmacy chains such as Walmart, regional chains such as Osco and many independent pharmacies in Illinois. On Chicago’s West Side, there are 27 in-network pharmacies with an average distance to these locations ranging from 0.4 - 0.7 miles."

"The state has to step up to make sure AETNA reverses their rules [which only allow people to go to specific pharmacies]," State Rep. La Shawn Ford said.

Dr. Dima Qato is a national pharmacy researcher who says if nothing changes, there could be consequences.

"People that have to travel farther are less likely to adhere to their meds," she said.

The state did tell FOX 32 that Cook County, including the south and west sides of Chicago, have met the 100-percent access requirement for Illinois Medicaid recipients.