Saturday, September 27, 2003True's closes doors for good
Pharmacy loses 2-year battle with state
By DOUG HARLOW, Staff Writer
OAKLAND "” Geoffrey Hill of Belgrade pulled up to the table by the big window Friday at True's Pharmacy and ordered the daily special.
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Staff photo / JEFF POULAND
Surrounded by a handful of friends, TrueÂ¹s Pharmacy owner Robert Nutting locks the front doors of his Oakland business on Friday. Nutting was forced to close his 33-year-old business after failing to reach a settlement with the state in Medicaid overbilling dispute. click to enlarge After all, if it's Friday at True's, it is the lobster roll with pickle, chips and coleslaw. But this Friday was different for Hill and for his fiancee, Kathy Smiley, and for the dozens of others who come to True's for coffee, a bite to eat and a visit with friends. True's owner Robert Nutting closed the business Friday at 6 p.m. after 33 years on Main Street. The doors were locked and the pharmacy, a small card shop and the popular lunch counter were closed forever. "I always order the lobster roll," Hill said amid a full house of customers at lunchtime Friday. "They are delicious. It's the best lobster roll I've ever had in Maine and believe me, I've had a lot of lobster rolls." True's closing came after a two-year battle with the state Department of Human Services over alleged Medicaid overbilling and mishandling of invoices during a five-year period. DHS officials have said Nutting owes as much a $1 million for goods and services the pharmacy received in reimbursements due to incorrect record keeping and billing through MaineCare, the state's version of Medicaid. The state rejected Nutting's final offer to settle this week and time ran out for the 56-year-old Republican state representative from Oakland. Hill said he has been coming to the lunch counter since he met Smiley, the woman he soon will marry, when Smiley worked there as a waitress. "We met here and started going out," he said. "That was Dec. 7, 1999 "” her birthday." Smiley, whose father, Richard Smiley, owns Smiley's Ice Cream in Winslow and whose aunt Pauline also showed up for lunch Friday, said she and her finance have been coming for lunch at True's three times a week. "I took the kids out of school for lunch today," she said. "We came here. It's really that big a deal for us. "Where are we going to meet? Where are we going to see each other. You kind of keep these relationships going. For people like us, that's how we feel the loss." Nutting's problems with DHS began two years ago when the state said red flags went up over True's formula for billing for reimbursements. The store had been providing pharmaceutical products and durable medical goods for years through the Medicaid program to hundreds of clients, including more than 60 long-term care facilities. Nutting voluntarily dropped out of the state's Medicaid program earlier this year, saying he was forced out of the program as DHS upped his payback for Medicaid money from 15 percent of his cash ******** to 50 percent, and finally 100 percent. Nutting said that had DHS let the payback stay at 15 percent, he would have been paid up by this summer and the store would not have closed. Along the way doctors, patients, state legislators, the Maine Pharmacy Association and the Oakland community rallied in support of a settlement, but the sides were too far apart. While supporters spoke of True's home delivery, 24-hour emergency service, hospice care and special way of mixing drugs that the chain stores do not do any more, the state was demanding receipts and invoices, primarily for adult diapers, medical gloves and bed liners. In the end, Nutting and his staff could not come up with all the documents and DHS made it clear it wanted the money. A letter this week from DHS rejecting Nutting's most recent and final offer to come up with about $866,000, including $255,000 already paid, was the final straw. Newell Augur, DHS director of legislative and public affairs, said state officials took True officials at their word when they offered to settle. Employees had given sworn testimony during hearings that they had $1.4 million in invoices for adult diapers. In fact, according to Auger, True's had only $977,000 in invoices, a difference of about $400,000. "Today's crowd is the biggest I can remember seeing," Nutting said. "A lot of people here are here for the last supper. "There's been no turning back since yesterday. Everything was put in action yesterday when the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) was informed and the state pharmacy board was notified that today will be the day." True's prescription files have been transferred to the Rite Aid Pharmacy down the street in Oakland. The prescription drugs, which Nutting owns, can be sold within 60 days he said. Nutting said he can appeal his case to Superior Court in Augusta or file for bankruptcy. As for his customers and the lunch crowd that hugged, cried and said goodbye Friday afternoon, Nutting said the saddest part will be the loss to the community. "They'll go without," he said. "They'll go without True's. They'll go without a local business. This game couldn't go on indefinitely."
[i]Way to go DHS, what a shot in the arm for our distressed economy! Let's see: Twenty or so people out of work, both the town of Oakland and the state of Maine lose on taxes, many different wholesalers lose revenue from loss of sales to True's , there's increased hardship on the area's elderly due to the loss of True's 24-hour emergency and delivery services, and forcing Bob Nutting into bankruptcy likely means you won't get the money you've been so unwilling to compromise on. Oh, and thanks for reinforcing the fact that Maine ranks 48th on the list of states that are business friendly. We needed the good PR. You folks must have misplaced your priorities along with the sixty-whatever million dollars. Thanks again.[/i][ 09-27-2003: Message edited by: Tom O ]