ATLANTA — Buddy Carter dismissed questions raised Friday by Bob Johnson, his rival in the Republican runoff for Congress, about Carter’s financial disclosures.
Johnson’s campaign is accusing Carter of failing to include the amount of sales his three drug stores made filling prescriptions to customers covered by Medicaid. Legislators like Carter must file annual financial reports designed to reveal conflicts of interest.
Carter did not include the Medicaid sales on his reports filed originally for 2005-10, only including those figures when he updated each of them in 2012. Together, it totaled nearly $6 million.
“The very serious issue here is that state Sen. Buddy Carter received $5.8 million from a state agency that he had direct oversight over in his committee positions in the Senate and that, for years, he failed to disclose these massive payments of taxpayer money as required by law,” said Johnson’s spokeswoman Maria Jeffrey.
However, people familiar with the issues say it’s not that simple.
Johnson, a Savannah surgeon, has also benefited from doing business with patients covered by Medicaid. Jeffrey said Medicaid is a small part of his practice and declined a request for how much he had received in those same years.
Johnson is like many physicians who have little interest in serving Medicaid patients because it’s not profitable. Carter said he loses money on most of the transactions at his stores and says he does it as a public service.
That’s the case for most locally-owned drug stores, according to Daniel Barbara, executive director of the North Carolina Association of Pharmacists.
“No one gets rich off of Medicaid. I think that’s an unqualified statement,” said Barbara, who had never heard of Carter.
Independent pharmacies don’t have the buying power of large chains which can afford to take a loss on medicine in order to make a profit on food, wine and assorted items that Carter doesn’t sell.
“For a lot of pharmacies, they are barely making a profit or they are actually losing money,” said John Norton, spokesman for the National Community Pharmacists Association.
That’s because Georgia and other states don’t sign contracts with local pharmacies on prices. Instead, state agencies contract with a pharmacy-benefit management company that sets what the state will pay for each drug.
Lawmakers like Carter have no say in the prices, so there is no way he of any of them could engineer a sweetheart deal like Johnson’s campaign is alleging, according to Rep. Butch Parrish, R-Swainsboro.
“The legislature does not vote on how much money they’re going to pay you for a dozen ampicillin capsules,” he said.
That’s why Carter didn’t originally report it on the financial-disclosure forms which ask for a list of payments from state agencies. Like many of the pharmacists in the legislature, he interpreted “payment” to mean wages or compensation for a contract rather than reimbursement for filling a prescription.
“I still really question whether or not it is a requirement that has to be disclosed,” said Parrish.
Carter decided to disclose the amounts in order to be consistent with the other legislator/pharmacists.
He said Friday that Johnson is lashing out in response to an ad linking him to Obamacare through membership in a medical association that supports it.
“These accusations by Bob Johnson are desperate and hypocritical as he accepts Medicaid himself,” Carter said.
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