State Comptroller Kevin Lembo announced Monday the creation of a “Maintenance Drug Network,” designed to let independent pharmacies continue to provide state employees with their medications. But according to a pharmacists group, participating drug stores would lose money.

A provision in the recently ratified state labor concessions package requires state workers to get their prescriptions for daily drugs through a mail order service owned by CVS. The requirement was estimated to save the state $19.87 million in the first year of the budget and $20.5 million in the second.

But independent pharmacy owners who serve state employees quickly cried foul, saying the provision cuts them out of the loop and negatively impacts their profits.

One pharmacy owner in Mansfield shut his doors before the deal was even ratified, telling Mansfield Today he couldn’t afford to stay in business since state workers make up 70 percent of his clientele.

In a statement, Lembo said pharmacies will be allowed to participate in the network so long as they match the rates of the program.

“This Maintenance Drug Network provides all the savings, but with more options for filling prescriptions,” he said. “The network will allow employees to pick up prescriptions at a local participating pharmacy – and still provide the state with cost savings resulting from mail-order pricing.”

But matching those rates will be difficult for most independent drug stores, according to Margherita R. Giuliano, executive vice president of the Connecticut Pharmacists Association. She said she has been hearing from her members that they cannot afford to participate in the network.

Local pharmacies can’t purchase the medications at the same rate as CVS Caremark, so if they chose to take part in the network, they would be doing so at a loss, she said. It leaves independent pharmacy owners with a tough choice, she said.

“It’s problematic. If they don’t participate they lose the patients but if they do they will be operating at a loss,” she said.

Those losses represent a deep cut since maintenance drugs, medications that treat chronic, long-term conditions, are the “meat and potatoes of their businesses,” she said.

She said her organization has been running a campaign advocating people’s right to choose where they get their medications. Many patients have strong relationships with their pharmacists, especially at smaller drug stores, she said. But while talks are ongoing, the state is adamant that the savings from the mail order provision be preserved.

While several stores are exploring the network, as of Monday only Stop and Shop and CVS had agreed to participate, according to Tara Downes, Lembo’s communications director.

Giuliano said she wasn’t sure if any other stores would be joining them.

“I think everybody is giving it a lot of thought. It’s concerning, very concerning,” she said.

Pharmacy owners looking to join the network can find the appropriate form through a link on the right side of the state comptroller’s web page titled “For Pharmacists: Enroll in Maintenance Drug Network Here.”