Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant's family-owned pharmacy has collected $19.5 million in state payments since 2008, records show.
The GOP gubernatorial candidate from Anderson has filed reports documenting that Bryant Pharmacy & Supply received $15.7 million in Medicaid payments and nearly $3.8 million in payments from the state health plan in the past decade.
Bryant answered questions about the state payments in an interview Friday with the Independent Mail.
“I wouldn’t blame anybody who had a concern with it," he said.
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His pharmacy is one of many in South Carolina that provide prescriptions, medical equipment and supplies to low-income children and adults covered by Medicaid and current and retired public employees on the state health plan.
“I am a participant in a free-market system," he said. "There is nothing exclusive here. A Medicaid customer can go wherever they want.”
Bryant said there are several other pharmacies within a couple of miles of his store on North Main Street in Anderson. He is the president of Bryant Pharmacy & Supply and has a 30 percent ownership stake in the business that his father started more than 50 years ago.
“Competition is fierce and I welcome that," he said. "Obviously our customers have lots of choices if we don’t serve them well.”
The state health plan contracts with 11,425 pharmacies and those businesses were paid a total of nearly $843 million in 2016, according to data provided Friday by the South Carolina Public Employee Benefit Authority. Bryant Pharmacy & Supply received almost $429,000 from the state health plan in 2016, ranking 700th among pharmacies in South Carolina.
Bryant Pharmacy & Supply has ranked in the top 10 percent of South Carolina pharmacies for payments from the state health plan since at least 2014.
“It is because of the work ethic that Daddy started back in the '60s of treating your customers with the best service possible,” said Bryant, who served in the state Senate from 2005 until he became lieutenant governor in January.
Bryant Pharmacy & Supply provides free next-day delivery of prescriptions, Bryant said. The business started out with three workers and now has about 40 employees, he said.
Regular customers who come into the store "get spoken to by name," he said.
"Our customer-service folks spoil our customers rotten," Bryant said. "We cut up with them. We have a good relationship with them.”
The state Department of Health and Human Services was unable to provide data on Friday for payments from the state's Medicaid program to pharmacies.
Bryant said Medicaid customers account for about 25 percent of his pharmacy's prescription business.
While serving as a senator, Bryant said, “I have voted to cut my own reimbursement and I have voted against Medicaid expansion, voted against cigarette tax, which expanded Medicaid, and I voted against every Medicaid budget.”
After Medicaid reimbursement rates were cut several years ago, Bryant said many pharmacies stopped providing supplies such as disposable diapers and bed pads to residents receiving long-term care throughout the state. In contrast, Bryant Pharmacy & Supply decided to get more heavily involved in this aspect of the state's Medicaid program.
Bryant reported last year that his business received about $1.45 million in Medicaid payments related to long-term care residents.
In the final days before last year's Republican primary, a group called Free Speech Unites mailed out fliers criticizing Bryant for the state money his pharmacy has received. Bryant's opponent in the primary, former Pendleton Mayor Carol Burdette, insisted she had no involvement with the group's flier. But she did express concern about Bryant's pharmacy doing business with the state while he was serving as a senator.
Bryant, who narrowly defeated Burdette, said he wouldn't be surprised if the same issue comes up in the governor's race.
John Crangle, a government watchdog, said Friday that Bryant probably won't face political jeopardy regarding state payments to his pharmacy unless his rivals can show that he had some sort of "unfair advantage." Crangle was the longtime executive director of South Carolina Common Cause before becoming government relations director for the South Carolina Progressive Network earlier this year.
Other candidates' reports
The state payments to Bryant's pharmacy were listed on reports known as a statement of economic interests that public officials and candidates are required to file annually with the state Ethics Commission. The reports filed since 2008 can be reviewed online at the commission's website.
Bryant also has listed more than $9,000 in gifts from various sources on these reports during the past decade.
Gov. Henry McMaster and the two other GOP candidates running for governor — former Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill of Kingstree and Charleston lawyer Catherine Templeton — have filed a number of statement of economic interests reports during the past decade.
McMaster, who replaced former Gov. Nikki Haley when she became the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in January, listed a combined total of $15,407 in gifts on his last two annual reports. That total included $10,514 in airline tickets and other transportation expenses, meals and hotel rooms from the Republican Lieutenant Governors Association. He also listed a $1,167 recreational hunting trip as a gift from the same group, as well as a $600 pair of cowboy boots from "Lucchese at Allens."
On his 2017 report, McMaster listed $1,439 in speaking fees, including $1,050 for two events held by Donald Trump's presidential campaign.
An official from McMaster's campaign did not return a phone message or text message Friday seeking comment.
A spokesman for Templeton's campaign declined to comment.
McGill, a former Democratic state senator who switched to the GOP last year, listed $10,914 in gifts on his statements of economic interests from 2008 through 2015, which is the last time he filed. He also reported receiving $8,642 in speaking fees related to economic development on his 2008 report.
Templeton, the former director of the state Department of Health and Enviromental Control, listed $2,279 in gifts and $1,895 in speaking fees on her reports from 2012 to 2015. She has not filed a statement of economic interests for 2016 or 2017.
The State newspaper reported earlier this month that Templeton was paid $124,000 over a five-month period in 2015 to work as a consultant for DHEC and the state Department of Revenue. The newspaper also reported that the two agencies had few written records related to the work that she performed.
'In it to win'
At this point, McMaster and Templeton are seen as the front-runners for the Republican nomination for governor in 2018. No Democrats have entered the race.
According to their latest financial disclosures, McMaster has nearly $1.5 million in campaign cash on hand and Templeton has about $1.3 million.
Crangle said he sees Bryant as an underdog in the race because he is not well-known throughout South Carolina. Crangle also said he cannot recall a sitting lieutenant governor winning an election in South Carolina for governor.
Bryant said in Friday's interview that he is "in it to win."
Two weeks after announcing his candidacy in Anderson, Bryant filed a disclosure showing that he has invested $225,250 of his own money to his campaign. He also made a $25,000 personal loan to his campaign.
Bryant said his campaign is being managed by James Epley of Greer. Epley was the Upstate regional director for Trump in 2016 and Newt Gingrich's Lowcountry regional director in 2012. Trump and Gingrich each won the state's first in the South Republican presidential primary.
McMaster and Bryant are each expected to attend a fundraiser Monday night for U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan at the Civic Center of Anderson.
If he is elected, Bryant said, he may have to create a blind trust because the governor appoints the director of the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the state's Medicaid program, including payments to pharmacies.
“After I become governor that is going to need to be addressed and we’ll do whatever is ethical," he said.
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State payments to Bryant Pharmacy & Supply since 2008
Kevin Bryant has reported the following payments from Medicaid and the state health plan to his family-owned pharmacy since 2008.