“It quickly becomes apparent that Dr. Philip Baker, a pharmacist and founder of Good Shepherd Health in Memphis, runs a different kind of pharmacy operation out of his base in the Hickory Ridge Mall when he rattles off figures like this one.
“I have $185,000 worth of drugs on the shelves right now, just waiting to be put out,” said the idea man behind a subscription-based and charity pharmacy operation with big ambitions.
His mission? Ignore the big guys’ focus on volume and markups. Health care professionals talk often about the industry being chock-a-block with the wrong incentives, and Baker is openly disdainful of realities like Walgreens’ $76.4 billion in net sales during its 2014 fiscal year.
He opened a two-in-one pharmacy in Memphis earlier this month, part of which is membership based and part of which is a charity pharmacy that dispenses free prescriptions to qualified low-income patients.
“Any pharmacy you go to, the way the pharmacy makes a profit is off of every single prescription they sell they mark up, and they also add a dispensing fee,” Baker said. “That may not be morally wrong, but to me it’s just not right.”
His operation’s model takes away the incentive to make a profit by peddling as many pills, especially high-cost ones, as possible. As part of Good Shepherd Health’s two-part strategy, the membership model is based around tiered rates that start at $5 for children 18 and under, $10 a month for those 18-29, $20 a month for people in their 30s on up to the most expensive plan, $50 a month for seniors.
Paying members, as part of their enrollment, get free prescriptions or are sold them at cost if they are low-income or don’t have insurance.
Baker thinks the model could eventually be scaled and taken national. It’s an outgrowth of his Good Shepherd nonprofit he started two years ago with the idea of helping people navigate the complexities of pharmacies and their medications.
At the time, the plan wasn’t to dispense prescriptions.
“What I was doing then, in my own time, was sitting down with primarily seniors who see four or more doctors and take 10 or more prescriptions,” Baker said. “Somebody would call and say, ‘Hey, I need you to look at grandpa’s prescriptions. I don’t know what he’s taking.’”
He’d help them empty out their medicine cabinet, looking for things that could be taken away because of similar prescriptions. He’d also help look for less expensive alternatives or generics, and things that could be acquired for free through patient-assistance programs.
Right now, Baker’s pharmacy has 15 members paying a membership fee and about six patients on the charity side.
“We want to get these prescriptions into the hands of the people who need them, who aren’t able to afford them,” Baker said. “My favorite part about being a pharmacist is sitting down with a patient and helping them, taking the time to let them get comfortable with me and going over their medications with them. I’m a pharmacist, but I hate to see people taking a ton of medicine.””