California can't be 'done' with Walgreens, experts say

California is legally required to continue doing business with Walgreens through its Medicaid program, legal experts told KHN in an April 6 report

Last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom took a hardline stance to confusion around whether the pharmacy retailer would dispense abortion pills. In a March 7 tweet, Mr. Newsom announced the state wouldn't do business with Walgreens, "or any company that cowers to the extremists and puts women's lives at risk. … We're done." 

However, roughly 15 million California residents are insured through the state's Medi-Cal program, which allows patients to get their medications at any approved pharmacy. Not covering prescriptions filled at Walgreens would mean a violation of federal law. Last year, the state paid the retail giant $1.5 billion, according to public records obtained by KHN

"California has no intention of taking any action that would violate federal Medicaid requirements, or that could undermine access for low-income individuals," Tony Cava, a spokesperson for the state's health department, said in a statement to the news outlet. 

Political strategists suggest the governor's social media announcements are more about appearance and voicing support of abortion rights, and less so about concrete action. California reinvited Walgreens to apply for a $54 million specialty drug contract after Mr. Newsom said the state would not renew it in early March. 

In early March, Walgreens said it would not dispense abortion pills in certain states where pharmacists are prohibited from dispensing mifepristone — a move that came after Republican attorneys general wrote a letter to the company threatening legal action if it began dispensing the drugs. The company has since said it does intend to dispense mifepristone, one of the two pills used in medication abortion, in any jurisdiction where it remains legal. 

"We want to be very clear about what our position has always been: Walgreens plans to dispense mifepristone in any jurisdiction where it is legally permissible to do so. Once we are certified by the FDA, we will dispense this medication consistent with federal and state laws. Providing legally approved medications to patients is what pharmacies do, and is rooted in our commitment to the communities in which we operate," a spokesperson for Walgreens said in a statement sent to Becker's April 6. 

 Editor's note: This story has been updated to include Walgreens' statement. 

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