Plans by several national retail pharmacy chains to expand primary care services and even some clinical laboratory test offerings may be delayed because of financial woes
Times are tough for the nation’s retail pharmacy chains. Rite Aid Corporation, headquartered in Philadelphia, closed 25 stores this year and has now filed for bankruptcy. In a press release, the retail pharmacy company announced it has “initiated a voluntary-court supervised process under Chapter 11 of the US Bankruptcy Code,” and that it plans to “significantly reduce the company’s debt” and “resolve litigation claims in an equitable manner.”
Rite Aid may eventually close 400 to 500 of its 2,100 stores, Forbes reported.
Meanwhile, other retail pharmacy chains are struggling as well. CVS Health, headquartered in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, and Walgreens Boots Alliance of Deerfield, Illinois, are each closing hundreds of stores, according to the Daily Mail.
They are each experiencing problems with labor costs, theft, being disintermediated for prescriptions by pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), and probably building too many stores in most markets.
This is a significant development, in the sense that Walgreens, CVS, and Walmart are each working to open and operate primary care clinics in their stores. This is a way to offset the loss of filling prescriptions, which has migrated to PBMs. Primary care clinics are important to the revenue of local clinical laboratories, but retail pharmacy chains do not yet operate enough primary care clinics in their retail pharmacies to be a major influence on the lab testing marketplace.
“With the support of our lenders, we look forward to strengthening our financial foundation, advancing our transformation initiatives, and accelerating the execution of our turnaround strategy,” said Jeffrey Stein (above), Rite Aid’s CEO/Chief Restructuring Officer, in a press release. Clinical laboratory leaders may want to closely monitor the activities of the retail pharmacies in their areas. (Photo copyright: Rite Aid.)
Multiple Pharmacy Companies at Financial Risk
Rite Aid Corporation (NYSE: RAD) confirmed it continues to operate its retail and online platforms and has received from lenders $3.45 billion in financing to support the company through the bankruptcy process.
However, according to the Associated Press (AP), Rite Aid has experienced “annual losses for several years” and “faces financial risk from lawsuits over opioid prescriptions,” adding that the company reported total debts of $8.6 billion.
Rite Aid is not the only retail pharmacy brand dealing with unwelcome developments. Fortune reported last year that Walgreens and CVS paid a combined $10 billion to 12 states for “involvement in the opioid epidemic.”
And in a news release, CVS announced plans to close 900 stores between 2022 and 2024.
Pharmacy Companies’ Investment in Primary Care
Though they are experiencing difficulties on the retail side, Walgreens and CVS have significantly invested in primary care.
In “Walgreens Continues Expansion into Primary Care as VillageMD Acquires Starling Physicians Group with 30 Locations in Connecticut,” we covered how Walgreens’ VillageMD primary care clinics business was expanding its footprint by acquiring Starling Physicians, a multi-specialty physicians group with 30 locations in Connecticut.
In that same ebrief, we reported on CVS’ acquisition of Oak Street Health, a Chicago-based primary care company, for $10.6 billion. CVS plans to have more than 300 healthcare centers by 2026.
“We looked at our business, and we said, ‘We’re seeing an aging population.’ We know people don’t have access to primary care. We know that value-based care is where it’s going. We know that there’s been a renaissance in home (care). So that’s kind of how we approached our acquisitions,” Karen Lynch, CVS Chief Executive Officer told Fortune.
Other Challenges to Retail Pharmacies
It could be that these major pharmacy chains are hoping entry into primary care will offset the loss of sales from prescriptions that have migrated to PBM organizations.
In addition to reimbursement challenges, retail pharmacies are reportedly experiencing:
- High labor costs,
- Competition from online, bricks-and-mortar, and grocery businesses, and
- Effects from the work-at-home trend, among other struggles.
“I think there’s a number of challenges which are coming to a head. One, you have ongoing reimbursement pressure. The reimbursement level for drugs continues to decrease, so profit margin on the core part of the business is under pressure,” Rodey Wing, a partner in the health and retail practices of global strategy and management consulting firm Kearney, told Drug Store News.
Additionally, the pharmacy’s drug sales need to be high enough to retain pharmacists, who are difficult to recruit in a post-pandemic market, Drug Store News explained.
And in the retail space where products are displayed, some pharmacies struggle to compete with Amazon on convenience and with “dollar” stores on price. And with more people working from home, retail pharmacies are seeing less foot traffic, Drug Store News noted.
Retail pharmacy companies also have competition from pharmacies conveniently situated in grocery and big-box stores, Forbes reported. These include:
Walmart, for its part, reduced operating hours of pharmacies at more than 4,500 sites, Daily Mail reported.
Thus, medical laboratory leaders would be wise to keep an eye on market changes in their local retail pharmacies. Some locations are equipped with clinical laboratory services and a closure could give local labs an opportunity to reach out to patients and physicians who need access to a new testing provider.
—Donna Marie Pocius