Alexandria, VA—Most community pharmacists appear to be struggling to fill open positions, leading to higher payroll costs and longer wait times for patients needing prescriptions, according to a new survey.

The poll was conducted for the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA).

"Community pharmacies are small businesses, and even though they are affected by the same tough conditions that are battering the rest of Main Street, the biggest threat to their ability to continue to provide health care for consumers—by far—is from the heavy-handed business tactics of insurance-owned PBMs," stated NCPA CEO B. Douglas Hoey, Pharmacist, MBA.

The results indicated that labor conditions did not change much from previous surveys last May or the November before, when about 79% and 70% of community pharmacists, respectively, stated that they were having a hard time finding workers.

The survey, conducted from July 25, 2022, through August 5, 2022, was sent to about 8,000 independent pharmacy owners and managers and received responses from 360.

Pharmacy technicians are especially an issue. More than 88% of respondents this year said finding pharmacy technicians was their top problem, followed by front-end staff at 56%.

In response, 73% of respondents reported offering higher wages and more benefits. Filling those positions is important, according to the poll, in which 54% of those responding said they had documented increased wait times for patient prescriptions to be filled.

"You take the labor shortage, which was acute last year, and add runaway inflation this year, and you have challenging conditions for local, independent pharmacies," Dr. Hoey explained.

Nearly all (93%) of the respondents say inflation is affecting their businesses. Unlike most other small businesses, pharmacies cannot raise prices on prescription medications to make up for higher costs.

"The cost of drugs is determined by big insurance companies and their pharmacy benefit managers. They decide how much pharmacies will be reimbursed for the prescriptions they dispense, and how much patients will pay for the drugs. Pharmacy reimbursements for most drugs is going down," Dr. Hoey stated. "Between rising costs and diminishing reimbursements, neighborhood pharmacies are really being squeezed."

The percentage of respondents reporting supply chain shortages that started at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic was down slightly—79% now compared with nearly 90% in April 2020—according to the survey.

The pharmacists answering the survey noted that the drug Adderall, used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, is in especially short supply. Almost two-thirds of respondents (64%) stated they have had difficulty getting the medicine. Despite widespread reports of tampon shortages, only 13% reported that they have had problems keeping the product in stock.

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