One might think that despite so many business failures during the coronavirus pandemic, all drugstores would be financially safe and might even prosper. After all, people need their prescription drugs, no matter what’s going on in the world.
However, this is not so for small neighborhood drugstores, says one Brooklyn pharmacist. The pharmacist is Ron Del Gaudio, whose family owns Kings Pharmacy on Flatbush Avenue in Park Slope as well as two other Kings Pharmacies, one near SUNY Downstate and the other on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The Kings Pharmacy name started in 1935 on Kings Highway.
For one thing, he said, the drugstores have to comply with COVID-19 related CDC guidelines: installing plexiglass barriers, requiring hand sanitizer, promoting social distancing between customers waiting in line, and more. All of this takes time, effort and money.
While Kings Pharmacy has offered delivery in the past, deliveries have “increased dramatically” since the pandemic, which makes for another expense. In March and April, when the pandemic’s effects were hitting hardest, few people were coming to the stores. “Or else, they would come in and buy only one thing [without browsing],” Del Gaudio said. “We had to cut our hours 20 percent, and I had to lay off staff.”
The coronavirus did raise the demand for certain items that were suddenly considered essential, like face masks, hand sanitizer, toilet paper and Tylenol. However, those items, at least at the beginning of the pandemic, were constantly in short supply. “I put out Tylenol, and in one or two days, the shelf was empty,” Del Gaudio said. “We suffered tremendously.”
Besides in-store considerations, one of the main problems for small pharmacies is that they’re being “crushed by pharmacy benefit managers,” Del Gaudio said. Pharmacy benefit managers are the middlemen between drugstores and insurance companies, and some have reduced reimbursements to pharmacies, small health plans, employers and drugstores. They also offer incentives for customers to buy prescription drugs by mail, which, of course, also impacts drugstores.
By contrast, Del Gaudio said, larger chains like CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid have other sources of income, sometimes as part of a corporate umbrella that also includes non-pharmacy businesses. In addition, CVS owns its own pharmacy benefit manager and its own prescription-drugs-by-mail service.
To alleviate some of these problems, Del Gaudio and many other pharmacists and pharmacy owners are supporting State Senate Bill S-2828/State Assembly Bill 9902, which was introduced this past February. The bill would require pharmacy benefit managers to be licensed and would specify their duties and obligations as service providers.–>
It would also provide for funds received by a pharmacy in trust for the health plan or provider and for the accountability of those funds, and would establish an appeals process to investigate and resolve disputes regarding multi-source generic drug pricing.