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Bankruptcies and Store Closings Are Signs of Tough Times Ahead for US Retail Pharmacy Chains

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.

Jeffrey Stein

“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.

Additionally, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a complaint “alleging that Rite Aid knowingly filled unlawful prescriptions for controlled substances,” explained a DOJ press release.

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.”

Walgreens intends to close 150 US and 300 United Kingdom locations, its former Chief Financial Officer James Kehoe shared in a third quarter 2023 earnings call transcribed by Motley Fool.

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

Related Information:

Rite Aid Takes Steps to Accelerate Transformation and Position Company for Long-Term Success    

Drugstore Downsizing: CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid to Close Nearly 1,500 Stores

Pharmacy Chain Rite Aid Files for Bankruptcy Amid Declining Sales and Opioid Lawsuits

US Files Complaint Alleging Rite Aid Dispensed Controlled Substances in Violation of the False Claim Act and the Controlled Substances Act

Rite Aid Files for Bankruptcy in the Face of Massive Debts and ‘Potentially Significant’ Claims for Role in the Opioid Epidemic

Walgreens Boots Alliance Q3 2023 Earnings Call

CVS Health Announces Steps to Accelerate Omnichannel Health Strategy

CVS CEO Sees Changes Coming ‘Faster than a Freight Train’ for Medicare. She’s Betting Billions She Can Build a New American Healthcare System

Threats and Opportunities Facing Retail Pharmacy

As CVS Says It Will Close 900 Stores, Here Are Three More Big Pharmacy Chains Which Are Shutting Locations and Cutting Hours

Walgreens Continues Expansion into Primary Care as VillageMD Acquires Starling Physicians Group with 30 Locations in Connecticut

Oak Street Health Opens Three Primary Care Clinics in Walmart Supercenters in Texas with Full Menu of Clinical Services

The clinics are part of a growing trend among large retailers to open full-service healthcare clinics where consumers seek out other goods and services

Major retail chains continue to partner with local health systems and other healthcare companies to expand the range of primary care services delivered in their stores. The latest such collaboration is a partnership between Walmart (NYSE:WMT) and Oak Street Health (NYSE:OSH) at three locations in Texas.

Why is this trend important for clinical laboratories to follow? Because after 15 years, retail chains are moving past the simple walk-in clinic model of using a nurse practitioner to provide limited diagnoses that produce prescriptions at chain store pharmacies and other retail locations. They are now partnering with local health systems to provide full healthcare services that are delivered by physicians. These medical services include many common clinical laboratory tests.

The new OSH clinics, located in Walmart Supercenters, are open and accepting patients via walk-in, same day, and scheduled appointments. The clinics are located in the Dallas-Fort Worth area at:

  • Arlington Walmart, 4801 S Cooper St, Arlington, TX, 76017
  • Benbrook Walmart, 8840 Benbrook Blvd, Benbrook, TX, 76126
  • Carrollton Walmart, 1213 E Trinity Mills Rd, Carrollton, TX, 75006

The clinics offer comprehensive, preventative, and urgent care services to consumers, including:

  • Primary care
  • Optometry
  • X-rays
  • Dental
  • Behavioral counseling
  • Hearing services
  • Nutrition and fitness

As well as clinical laboratory testing, including:

  • A1C
  • Lipid
  • Pregnancy
  • Strep
  • Mono
  • Flu
  • Drug screenings, and more.

 “While all members of the community—from toddlers to seniors—are welcome at these clinics, Oak Street Health’s focus in its growing network of more than 60 primary care centers remains adults on Medicare,” states an OSH press release.

This partnership between Walmart and Oak Street Health means clinical labs in that area will need to follow their patients to be able to collect the specimens and perform the lab tests for patients seen in Walmart Health clinics.

Walmart Health Center Outside Inside
In, “Walmart Opens Second Health Center Offering Clinical Laboratory Tests and Primary Care Services,” Dark Daily reported in May on similar Walmart Health Center openings like that shown above in partnership with WellStar Health System in Georgia. These full-service primary care centers offer many common clinical laboratory tests. “By offering clinical laboratory testing in support of primary care and urgent care, Walmart may be able to lower prices for lab tests in any market that it enters,” said Robert Michel, Editor-in-Chief of Dark Daily and its sister publication The Dark Report. (Photo copyright: Walmart.)

Oak Street Health Brings Value-based Medicine to 11 States

“It is our mission at Oak Street Health to rebuild healthcare as it should be, and that aligns directly with Walmart’s history of providing accessible and equitable healthcare in communities across the country,” said Mike Pykosz, CEO of Oak Street Health, in the press release. “We look forward to becoming a positive addition to the neighborhood in these new markets and providing an unmatched healthcare experience in a convenient location.”

Both companies are planning to extend their relationship beyond these three locations and open additional clinics in other regions.

“We’ve proudly served customers at these three former Walmart Care Clinic locations for the last five years, and we are excited to bring this evolved approach to healthcare to our customers at these locations with Oak Street Health,” said Marcus Osborne, Senior Vice President, Walmart Health, in the press release. “As we grow Walmart Health locations in other markets, we think Oak Street Health’s innovative value-based healthcare model will help us continue to deliver on our live better promise at these locations.”

The majority of Oak Street Health consumers are Medicare Advantage patients, but OSH does accept most major and commonly-accepted insurance plans, Healthcare Dive reported.

Full-Service Healthcare Clinics Drawing Investor Attention

There is evidence that savvy investors believe moving primary care into retail stores and other non-traditional locations can be a big winner. In its third quarter report, Oak Street Health released very strong numbers for their third quarter, which ended September 30. Their total reported revenue for the quarter was $217.9 million, which accounted for a 57% increase over last year’s third quarter earnings, Yahoo Finance reported.

OSH’s capitation revenue totaled $211.8 million, according to the report, which was a 59% increase year over year. Law Insider defines capitation revenues as “all payments from managed care organizations, where payment is made periodically on a per member basis for the partial or total medical care needs of a patient, co-payments, and all HMO incentive bonuses.”

In its third quarter statement, Oak Street Health also reported caring for approximately 59,500 at-risk patients, which represented 66% of its total patients.

“Our strong third quarter results were highlighted by 38% growth in at-risk patients, 57% revenue growth, and the resumption of new center openings, as we opened 13 centers during the quarter amidst continued uncertainty related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Pykosz in a statement, Yahoo Finance reported. “Looking ahead, we continue to be excited by the ample opportunity to drive continued de novo expansion across both new and existing markets, as well as the complementary growth opportunities presented by our Walmart collaboration and CMS’ Direct Contracting program.”

As we wrote in the May Dark Daily e-briefing, “Clinical laboratory leaders may want to explore partnerships with Walmart and other retailers that are developing healthcare centers to deliver primary care services in places where masses of people shop for everyday items. Especially given that these big-box retailers remain open during healthcare crises like the COVID-19 pandemic.”

This is even more critical now, as more retailers partner with health systems to provide expanded primary care and clinical laboratory services.

—JP Schlingman

Related Information:

Walmart, Newly Public Oak Street Health Launch Clinic Partnership in Texas

Oak Street Health Opens Its First Texas Walmart Clinic

Oak Street Health Announces Collaboration with Walmart to bring Affordable, High-quality Healthcare to Texas

Oak Street Health Announces Collaboration with Walmart to Bring Affordable, High-Quality Healthcare to Texas

Oak Street Health Reaches Milestone 70th Location with Entry into New York and Opening of First Walmart Community Clinic

Oak Street Health Opens First Center in Mississippi

Oak Street Health Reports Third Quarter 2020 Financial Results

Walmart Opens Second Health Center Offering Clinical Laboratory Tests and Primary Care Services

Walmart Remodeling In-Store Pharmacies to Include Private Consultation Rooms