UHS does not need a pharmacy

By Harrison Searles

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As of the end of 2011’s fiscal year, University of Massachusetts’ University Health Services was running a $500,000 deficit as well as having $5 million in deferred maintenance to aging facilities. One decision that the University had made to bring UHS back to a sound fiscal footing has faced particular controversy – the UHS pharmacy would be closing its doors come the end of this semester.

Josh Kellogg/Collegian

Despite misgivings by students and others, the pharmacy should be one of the services on the cutting block. Unlike other services that UHS provides for students, there are obvious substitutes for its pharmacy in close proximity to campus. Furthermore, there is also the issue that all students pay for the pharmacy through their student fees, but only a group of students are in need of the services it provides. Following this, the question of the closing of the UHS’ pharmacy is a question that can be reduced to whether UMass ought to provide subsidized services to students.  As a result, the UHS ought to close the pharmacy in order to ensure that it can continue its mission of providing services that really benefit the entire student body rather than merely the needs of one group.

To start, it simply cannot be argued that the UMass campus is sufficiently isolated from private pharmacies in order to warrant the University building one on campus. There is not only one, but two pharmacies within walking distance of the campus – one in Amherst center and another down from the Southwest dormitories along North University Drive. The vast majority of students are fully capable of taking an hour out their schedule to walk to either of those pharmacies and supply themselves with the medications they require. Most need not even do that because many busses or shuttles run on a regular and frequent schedule that would bring a student to Amherst center without even having to walk far, which also provides access to those students who would not have been able to walk.

The entire argument that pharmacies are not available to students is simply unsound, contradicted by a quick glance at the community surrounding campus. At best, it is a naïve misunderstanding of the environment surrounding the campus. At worst, it is an apology for the laziness of students who cannot schedule an hour-long trip into their schedule. Either way, it is a terrible argument and one that can be thoroughly dismissed. There are clear substitutes for the UHS pharmacy in close approximation of the UMass campus, so closing the pharmacy would not be a detriment to the well-being of the student population.

That aside, the fundamental concern regarding the closing of the pharmacy ought to be the issue of whether or not the fees of healthy students should be increased in order to provide for a pharmacy that they would not use. Not everyone uses the pharmacy, not every student is in a position to even need prescription drugs. This columnist, for instance, has never needed to go to the pharmacy in the four years I’ve has been a student here; indeed, I’ve has never set foot within the entire UHS complex, not even once. To ignore that there are plenty of students who do not need the services of a pharmacy, who can properly supply themselves with drugs over the counter, would be to forget a part of the population that must nevertheless pay much of the operating costs of the pharmacy in the price they pay to attend this university. Nihil ex nihilo, the bread we eat must first be baked, and the pharmacy cannot operate on a budget of good wishes. The operating costs of the pharmacy must somehow be paid if it is to continue, and someone in the long run must eventually foot the bill.

If the pharmacy remains in operation, then it will be the students who will foot that bill. The costs will eventually be added to the fees that they pay to attend classes at the University. As of now each student has to pay $654 in annual fees to come to the University that goes to supporting UHS. This is certainly no small sum, especially with the costs of an undergraduate education being what they are these days. Since student can opt out of receiving UHS service, UHS ought to focus on providing benefits that we all can be in a position to enjoy. However, the drugs that the pharmacy sells go to the private benefit of the purchaser and since not all students make use of the pharmacy, many students are saddle with the costs for services that they are not in a position to benefit from.

In other words, those that are using the pharmacy are enjoying services partly paid for by those who do not consume those services. If this were not the case, then the UHS pharmacy would be capable of running entirely off of the sales it makes, but this is clearly not the case. It would not even be plausible that students would be willing to pay more for their drugs at the on-campus pharmacy when they could go down the street to get some at a lower price – the marvel of competition.

The UHS pharmacy is not self-supporting, though, and hence fees from those who do not use it are going into providing for ensuring that a group of students on campus have easy access to their drugs. It is certainly a privilege of some paid for by all. When there are pharmacies nearby that students in need could go to, having all students pay fees that go to the support of a service that they do not use is simply unnecessary privilege. Since such privileges have no place in a society of free persons, the pharmacy ought to be closed in order to ensure that all students pay for services that they would actually utilize rather than subsidizing the private consumption of other students.

In the end, even though much attention deserves to be given over the fact that the entire UHS system is running severe deficits each year – this on its own would cause enough to close down inessential services that the UHS pays for – not enough attention is given to the fact that, by paying their tuition fees, many students are providing for the consumption of a smaller group within the student body.

When undergraduate education is as expensive as it is, there is no need to put another cost upon students for a service that they will not consume. Those who do have to supply themselves with drugs not sold over-the-counter can easily walk down the street in order to give either of the CVS pharmacies down the street their business. To bill someone for services that they will never consume when there are clear substitutes available in the local community simply has no place in a free society and therefore the UHS pharmacy must be closed.

Harrison Searles is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]