[caption id="attachment_235487" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] This Rite Aid off New London Road on the north side of Newark was closed amid the company's bankrutpcy filing. The company has closed three other Delaware locations. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS[/caption]
NEWARK – Consumers looking to fill prescriptions in the greater Newark area suddenly have a lot fewer choices on where to go after some of the nation’s largest pharmacies have closed nearly a half dozen locations in just three months.Rite Aid, which is undergoing a Chapter 11 restructuring bankruptcy after dealing with years of financial losses and increasing threats of lawsuits related to opioid prescriptions, has closed four locations since October. Its competitor Walgreens closed an underperforming location on Main Street in Newark in October as part of its own cost-cutting measures.The losses will leave patients with fewer choices in the market and potentially compound wait times at nearby locations that would pick up the moved accounts. Kim Robbins, the executive director of the Delaware Pharmacists Society, believes it may also result in better service at remaining locations though, because Delaware faces a shortage of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians who have been stretched thin at locations.But it also underscores the often-slim margins that pharmacies operate on, due in large part to the nation’s insurance system model and the involvement of pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), according to Robbins.“It has finally trickled to the big guys. The little guys have been feeling it for a while and we've had to change our business practices,” she said.PBMs are large corporations that were originally formed to negotiate prescription drug prices between drug manufacturers and health insurance plans with the goal of delivering savings to patients. After much consolidation, including with corporate pharmacy brands CVS and insurers like Cigna and UnitedHealthcare, PBMs have seen growing profits from reimbursements and fees, often at the expense of neighborhood pharmacies and consumers.Robbins, who works at an independent pharmacy in Smyrna, noted that there are certain HIV and weight-loss medications that her business will no longer stock because they end up losing money on each sale due to fees paid back to a PBM.Rite Aid has not cited PBMs as a reason for its bankruptcy filing, instead pointing to $3.3 billion in debt taken on by the Philadelphia-based company to compete with rivals CVS and Walgreens and the threat of more than 1,500 lawsuits related to its role in the opioid epidemic drove it to restructure its debt and close underperforming stores.“Rite Aid regularly assesses its retail footprint to ensure we are operating efficiently while meeting the needs of our customers, communities, associates and overall business,” a company spokesperson said. “In connection with the court-supervised process, we notified the court of certain underperforming stores we are closing to further reduce rent expense and strengthen overall financial performance.”Falling drug reimbursement rates, combined with the decline in front-of-store retail sales amid the rise of e-commerce and competing stores like Dollar General, have led to a steady decline in pharmacies nationwide though. A 2019 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that about one out of eight pharmacies closed between 2009 and 2015, which disproportionately affected independent pharmacies and low-income neighborhoods.
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