Rural Areas Continue to Lose Pharmacy Access

October 6, 2014
Eileen Oldfield Associate Editor

Nearly 1000 independently owned pharmacies have closed over the past decade, leaving 490 rural areas without access to retail pharmacy services.

Nearly 1000 independently owned pharmacies have closed over the past decade, leaving 490 rural areas without access to retail pharmacy services, recent research has revealed.

According to the Rural Policy Research Institute’s Center for Rural Health Policy Analysis, which conducted the study, the number of independently owned pharmacies that were the only pharmacy in their rural community declined steadily between 2003 and 2013, from 2063 in March 2003 to 1773 in December 2013.

The sharpest decline occurred between January 2007 and January 2009, when the number of sole community independent pharmacies declined by 7.2%, from 7383 to 6853.

According to the researchers, that decline likely resulted from the implementation of Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage (Part D) between 2005 and 2008, which increased administrative efforts, established payment timelines, and resulted in low reimbursement levels. However, the continued declines since 2008 are potentially related to outside factors, such as pharmacist retirement and difficulty with finding a successor.

“Loss of pharmacists in rural areas, particularly in areas where there was only 1 pharmacist in the community, can have serious implications for health care provision,” the study authors wrote. “Independent pharmacists are of particular concern as they are more likely to operate in underserved and rural areas and face additional business challenges from their limited ability to negotiate with pharmacy benefit managers, drug wholesalers, and health plans.”