business news in context, analysis with attitude

The Washington Post writes that "after decades of expansion, the nation’s largest drugstore chains are closing hundreds of stores as they reorient their operations against rising competition, a crush of opioid lawsuits and other forces — relegating many already-vulnerable communities into pharmacy deserts.

"Rite Aid, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last week, CVS and Walgreens have signaled plans to collectively shutter more than 1,500 stores in the past two years. Public health experts have already seen the fallout, noting that the first neighborhoods to lose their pharmacies are often predominantly Black, Latinx and low-income.

"'According to our estimates, about one in four neighborhoods are pharmacy deserts across the country,' said Dima Qato, an associate professor at the University of Southern California who studies pharmacy access and health equity. 'These closures are disproportionately affecting communities that need pharmacies most.'

"Pharmacies can be lifelines in rural or low-income areas, particularly in food deserts — areas that have limited access to healthy and affordable food. Pharmacists are often the most accessible health care professional for these communities, said Lorece Edwards, a professor of public health at Morgan State University who focuses on health disparities."

The Post writes that "for national pharmacy chains, retrenchment has been a long time coming, retail analysts say, as increased competition, changing consumer behaviors, retail crime, staffing shortages and minimal store investment come to a head. They’re also feeling a comedown from pandemic-era sales of coronavirus vaccines, at-home test kits and other products … In a different era, the corner drugstore was the model of convenience, the place to not only fill prescriptions but also buy snacks, birthday cards and household staples. In the 1990s and early 2000s, CVS and Walgreens started putting down roots across the country, edging out the independents. Today, the nation’s two largest pharmacy chains have more than 9,000 and 8,700 locations, respectively, and a combined $455.2 billion in sales in 2022.

"But now consumers have more options, analysts say, many of which are cheaper and more convenient. They’re also more cautious as inflation - which shot up to 40-year highs in 2022 and remains elevated - weighs on discretionary spending."

KC's View:

Community-owned pharmacies, anyone?

Somehow this is no surprise.  The big chain drug stores are so interested in becoming a profitable cog in the health care ecosystem that the appeal of running actual drug stores probably has faded.  And it is fair to say that so much of what they traditionally sold - including prescriptions - can be obtained online.

The problem is that the US increasingly becomes a have-have not society, where the communities and people on the bubble simply don't have access to basic services that folks with money and means do.  This is not healthy for a culture, but I don't see anyone coming up with an effective prescription to address the issue.