DRUG STORES: Trying to Cope with Pharmacist Shortage
An industry-wide pharmacist shortage has forced some drugstores in North Carolina to close their pharmacy counters for hours or an entire day, the Raleigh News & Observer reports. Todd Andrews, a spokesperson for CVS, said, "There is a pharmacist shortage in North Carolina that is placing some staffing demands on all pharmacies, including CVS. Under certain extraordinary circumstances, we are presented with some staffing challenges. There's a big demand for the professional pharmacist." He added that the chain will add eight professionals in the Raleigh area in the next month, with salaries starting at $66,000. Eckerd spokesperson Tami Alderman said the company has had reports of branches closing two hours early due to staffing troubles. Nationwide, chains are "losing pharmacists to competitors and private employers like managed care organizations." Also, the number of pharmacy-school graduates decreased by 300 last year, to 7,400. Many companies have ramped up their recruiting efforts, offering salaries of more than $75,000, moving allowances and extended breaks. Dr. Richard Penna, executive vice president of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, said, "The drugstore industry is expanding very rapidly. As they expand, they need pharmacists. Everyone is having difficulty, and as a result, salaries are going up" (Jones, 6/29).
Philly Drugstores Say Something is Not Rite
Today's Wall Street Journal reports that many small pharmacies and even some major chains like Walgreen, CVS and Eckerd in Philadelphia are refusing to fill prescriptions for Medicaid enrollees, charging that the reimbursement rates are too low. However, the "low Medicaid reimbursement rates don't bother Rite Aid," which happily takes the customers refused by its competitors. Because a Rite Aid subsidy, Eagle Managed Care, the pharmacy benefits manager for Philadelphia-area Medicare enrollees, "helped set many of those rates," other Philly-area drugstores are crying foul. Independent pharmacy owner Michael Schwartz, who charged the chain with "trying to squeeze independents and everyone else out of the marketplace," said, "Because they own Eagle, they can end up turning a net profit." Rite Aid denies it is trying to drive anyone out of the market, as well as "any suggestion that the HMO contracts support the drugstore chain, by making up for profits lost at retail." The Journal notes that the "Philadelphia case suggests that ownership of benefits managers by large drugstore chains raises its own set of issues" (Berner, 6/30).
Omnicare Inc., the nation's largest provider of pharmacy services to nursing homes, announced yesterday that it "will eliminate 1,700 jobs and close 20 sites -- mostly pharmacies -- to help cut costs and operate more efficiently." The company predicted lower-than-expected second quarter earnings earlier this month due to cuts in Medicare nursing home reimbursements, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports (Tucker, 6/30).