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Experts say pharmacy closures could result in strained access for rural residents

LANSING -- As Michigan faces continuing pharmacy closures, experts are saying that access to prescription medications could become more difficult for more patients.

While a large majority of Americans live within five miles of a pharmacy, more rural patients may have limited options within a reasonable driving distance — and could soon be losing an essential piece of their healthcare. Providers like Rite Aid have indicated that dozens of Michigan pharmacies could close in the coming months.

That presents concerns for experts who say closures could threaten medication and overall healthcare access.


“The established relationship between the patient and pharmacists is no longer going to be there,” said Eric Roath, director of government affairs for the Michigan Pharmacists Association. “You’re experiencing care disruption, you may have challenges getting to the next pharmacy over. This is going to be a massive inconvenience for patients.”

Michigan policymakers have been aware of struggles with medication access for years, implementing a remote pharmacy program in 2020.

Remote pharmacies are staffed by pharmacy technicians and can be located in areas without a pharmacy within 10 miles.

Rep. Curt VanderWall, R-Ludington, says that remote pharmacies can enable some patients to maintain their in-person medication pickups and counseling with pharmacists.


“We’re just trying to make sure that people have better access to healthcare and better outcomes,” VanderWall said. “And that’s what this bill has provided.”

Vanderwall says that remote pharmacies could expand in the coming years.

Beyond medication access, pharmacies and their workers are able to provide a level of care and familiarity with patients that may be tough to find elsewhere.

“People don’t utilize their local pharmacy just to pick up their prescriptions. A mail-order program can do that,” Roath said. “Patients with complex medical conditions seek out advice and care guidance from their pharmacists in the modern healthcare ecosystem. And essentially, what these patients are doing is they’re losing access to a health care provider that they can see without a copay.”


VanderWall acknowledges that remote pharmacies don’t offer quite the same experience as traditional businesses — they offer limited hours and lack a retail component.

But patients of remote pharmacies are still able to speak with a pharmacist about their medication virtually. VanderWall says that while the system isn’t perfect, remote pharmacies could play a role in ensuring medication access for all Michigan residents.

“We need to do everything we can to make sure that a patient that lives in a rural community has the same opportunities as somebody that lives in a larger city,” he said.

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