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☆ Another symptom of a healthcare system damaged by Obamacare?
In some towns, it’s getting harder to pick up your blood-pressure pills with that gallon of milk and rotisserie chicken. Hundreds of regional grocery stores in cities from Minneapolis to Seattle are closing or selling pharmacy counters, which have been struggling as consumers make fewer trips to fill prescriptions and big drugstore chains tighten their grip on the U.S. market.
Grocery pharmacies are getting hit on several fronts, analysts and the companies say. They are too small to wrest competitive reimbursement rates on drugs, they aren’t connected to big medical networks or insurers, and they generally lack walk-in clinics and other health services that draw many customers to CVS and Walgreens locations.
“Our establishment had a community feel, it wasn’t overly busy so we got to really care for our customers,” said Phillip Breker, who managed a now-closed pharmacy at Lunds & Byerlys, a Minneapolis-area grocery chain. “I also saw the numbers in the back end and how that soured in the last 10 years. The company made the right decision.”
Grocery pharmacies are the latest casualty of industry consolidation that has for years been forcing mom-and-pop drugstores to close. Even some big players have rethought the market. Target Corp. sold off its pharmacy business to CVS Health Corp. five years ago.
Supermarkets have viewed pharmacies as a tool to draw shoppers in. Fueled by easy profits and relatively low startup costs, legions of stores added pharmacy counters in the 1980s and 1990s. Grocery drugstores proliferated to account for roughly 14% of retail pharmacy prescriptions, according to the National Association of Drug Stores.
The number of grocery pharmacies declined for the first time in years in 2017, the latest year for which data is available, to 9,026, down from 9,344 in 2016.
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