Pharmacies Going Postal? NCPA Proposes Partnership with USPS

The National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) announced yesterday that it has entered discussions with the US Postal service (USPS) to weigh the possibility of a mutually beneficial partnership. As the USPS considers limiting its services to counteract a growing budget deficit, pharmacies could be among the community retailers asked to fill the role of a traditional post office.

“We want to further explore opportunities for community pharmacies to partner with the USPS for the benefit of the public and one another. In rural areas, in particular, this would seem to be an ideal partnership,” said Kevin Schweers, the NCPA’s vice president of public affairs.

The announcement followed a previous statement by US Postmaster General John E. Potter forecasting a deficit of $238 billion over the next 10 years. In an action plan released March 2, Potter proposed drastic changes to the USPS’s 235-year-old system, now in danger of extinction.

Community pharmacies stand to benefit from several of the proposed changes, which are currently under review by Congress. Speaking on behalf of the NCPA, Schweers addressed the following 3 key reforms from the USPS action plan, and their implications for pharmacy:

Significant rate hikes. According to Schweers, higher postage rates would make mail-order pharmacies less cost-effective—and therefore less appealing—to pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) and their clients.

Elimination of Saturday service. A 5-day delivery schedule would eliminate access to mail-order drugs for almost a third of the week, which, Schweers argues, would force PBMs to consider delivering medications through UPS or FedEx. Both private companies charge extra fees for weekend delivery, making them fundamentally incompatible with PBMs’ bottom line philosophy.

Closure and consolidation. The USPS said it would seek to “reduce redundant retail facilities” in areas where customers are no longer visiting their local post offices. To soften the blow of post office closures, USPS will expand access to its services by offering them in more convenient retail locations, such as pharmacies and supermarkets.

Many pharmacies currently offer mail services, ranging from basic stamp sales to full-scale, on-site post offices. Further NCPA-USPS collaboration could improve business for neighborhood pharmacies by enabling them to diversify services and increase customer traffic in areas where post office functions have been scaled back or redirected. As part of its efforts to investigate the merits of such partnerships, the NCPA is currently conducting surveys of its members, Schweers reports.

To find out more about USPS reforms and how they could impact the future of community pharmacies, pharmacists should review the strategic 10-year action plan, available in full on the USPS Web site. For information on how pharmacies and other retailers can become “alternate postal vendors,” visit the USPS’s official FAQ.