Predominantly Black and Hispanic urban areas are more likely than white neighborhoods to see local pharmacies close and are more likely to be pharmacy deserts. In Chicago, one pharmacist is bucking the trend, operating the drugstore his father opened in the 1960s in a Black neighborhood.
Stores like Walmart and Shopko opened pharmacies in small towns, either buying out the local pharmacy or driving it out of business. What happens when those chains later withdraw, leaving communities with no pharmacy?
Independent pharmacists who want to retire often have trouble attracting new pharmacists to take over their practices, particularly in rural areas. That can cause smaller towns to lose their pharmacies. With many pharmacists near retirement, the problem may only get worse.
More than 1,000 independent rural pharmacies have closed since 2003, leaving 630 communities with no retail drugstore. As 41 million people stuck in pharmacy deserts make do, the remaining drugstores struggle to survive.
Pharmacy benefit managers have curtailed in-person audits of pharmacy claims during the pandemic, switching to virtual audits done by computer. That has markedly increased the number of claims they can review — and the chances for payment denials — squeezing pharmacies and bringing in more cash for the benefit companies.
As more independently owned community pharmacies close, a Colorado town is crowdsourcing ways of getting prescription medicines delivered to those who can’t travel the long distance to the closest pharmacy. But even those stopgap measures don’t always work.