In a new story for The Washington Post, reporter Markian Hawryluk writes about the vanishing rural drugstores in rural America. As drugstores and pharmacies disappear in rural areas, it leaves the people who relied on them to travel further for medications, expanding “Medical Deserts” across counties and the country.

From the story: “Corner pharmacies, once widespread in large cities and rural hamlets alike, are disappearing from many areas of the country, leaving an estimated 41 million Americans in what are known as drugstore deserts, without easy access to pharmacies. An analysis by GoodRx, an online drug price comparison tool, found that 12 percent of Americans have to drive more than 15 minutes to reach the closest pharmacy or don’t have enough pharmacies nearby to meet demand. That includes majorities of people in more than 40 percent of counties.

From 2003 to 2018, 1,231 of the nation’s 7,624 independent rural pharmacies closed, according to the University of Iowa’s Rural Policy Research Institute, leaving 630 communities with no independent or chain retail drugstore.

Independent pharmacies are struggling due to the vertical integration among drugstore chains, insurance companies and pharmaceutical benefit managers, which gives those companies market power that community drugstores can’t match.

Insurers also have ratcheted down what they will pay for prescription drugs, squeezing margins to levels that pharmacists call unsustainable. As the insurers’ drug plans steered patients to their affiliated drugstores, independent shops watched their customers drift away. They find themselves at the mercy of pharmaceutical middlemen, who claw back pharmacy revenue through retroactive fees and aggressive audits, leaving local pharmacists unsure if they’ll end the year in the black.”

As the current pandemic continues into 2022, many small town pharmacists find themselves making the tough decision to close up shop, exacerbating the issue and causing a greater gap in rural health care.

To read the rest of the story at WaPo, click here.