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Waldoboro's Only Pharmacy to Close as Medicaid Changes Squeeze Profits
11/13/2012   Reported By: Jay Field

An independent, community pharmacy in the midcoast area is closing its doors after more than a century. The family that owns Waltz Pharmacy in Waldoboro is getting out of the retail end of the business, as declining rates of Medicaid reimbursment and other changes to the health care industry squeeze profit margins. Rite-Aid has reportedly agreed to begin making deliveries to the area. But many seniors in this small community worry they'll end up struggling to get to Rockland or Damariscotta to get their prescriptions. Jay Field reports.

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Waltz Pharmach

For generations they've walked beneath the blue and orange neon sign and into the red brick building on Friendship Street to pick up their medications and to talk.

"There's not much in the town. It's one of the few things that we have that's a positive," says Charlotte Guleziam, a senior on Medicare. Guleziam has been coming here for 20 years.

"I come here for prescriptions regularly and for other pharmacy type needs," she says. "It's a real asset to the town to have its own pharmacy."

But economics reach a tipping point; community anchors come unmoored and fade away - which is what's about to happen here in Waldoboro this coming Saturday, when the Waltz Pharmacy is scheduled to shut its doors. The closure is likely to be especially hard on the growing population of seniors in this town of 5,000, who will now need to get medications delivered to them or find a way to get to Rite Aid in Rockland or Damariscotta.

"Lincoln County is the oldest county, I've been told, in the United States, demographically, and Waldoboro has the largest population base in the county," says Ted Wooster, who's the head pharmacist at Waltz's.

Wooster says his dad bought the business in 1951, when Waldoboro was a lot younger place than it is today. "Those consequences leave us with a lot of people, with a lot of prescriptions, and shrinking profit margins," he says.

Here's the problem: Pharmacies like Waltz's are serving more and more low-income seniors on Medicaid, at a time when reimbursement rates for prescription drugs continue to go down. In addition, scores of brand-name drugs are about to flood the generic market, which means lower profits for pharmacies over the long term. John Norton is head of public relations at the National Community Pharmacists Association.

"What will often happen is you will have independent community pharmacies, who've been around for a decade or two or three, who essentially have gotten worn out by what's going on out in the marketplace and haven't seen the relief they've wanted to," he says.

So Norton says some of these independent operators end up selling their pharmacies. Ted Wooster sold his to Waltz's and the Dean Jacobs family 12 years ago. Norton says all pharmcies that aren't part of a large chain are facing difficult decisions, as declining rates of Medicaid reimbursement and other market forces pose business challenges.

"They adjust accordingly," he says. "And what they do is they make sure to offer those niche services like long-term care, compounding and immunizations. That's how they can be successful."

Dean Jacobs did not return a call for comment by airtime on this story. But Waltz's business model is hewing closely to this formula. The company is getting rid of all of its retail business and focusing exclusively on its Brunswick pharmacy serving long-term care facilities and patients.

The Waltz Pharmacy in Waldoboro will close November 17th.

Photo by Jay Field.



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