As the nation’s largest pharmacy chains grapple with accusations of under-staffing, threats to patient safety and crack downs from regulators, Harris Beach’s Pharmacy Law attorneys are tracking developments.

CVS Health recently agreed to pay $1.5 million to Ohio regulators after store inspections allegedly found numerous safety concerns, including insufficient staff, dispensing errors, expired medications, dirty equipment, deficient drug security and more. The Ohio Board of Pharmacy said it found 27 safety violations at 22 different stores. CVS Health, which has 9,000 locations nationwide, also agreed to make changes that Ohio says will soon apply to all pharmacies, including other large chains, such as Walgreens and Rite Aid.

Ohio Attorney General David Yost called for U.S. Congress to crack down on pharmacy benefit managers, the middlemen between insurance companies and pharmacies. Yost is seemingly drawing a line between the failure of these benefits managers to fairly compensate pharmacies and the understaffing that leads to safety concerns.

Yost pointed out two of the pharmacy benefits managers — CVS Caremark and OptumRx — were found to have charged Ohio’s Medicaid system $224 million more in 2017 for prescription drugs than they paid pharmacists.

The three largest pharmacy benefits managers — CVS Caremark, OptumRx and Express Scripts —control access to an estimated 80% of patients. Each is owned by a top health insurance company.

Low Staff Satisfaction at Chain Pharmacies

At the same time regulators are cracking down on the bigger pharmacy chains, staff are complaining of being short-handed and over-worked, saying that inadequate staffing is threatening patient safety.

Protests recently organized over social media led to some CVS and Walgreens workers temporarily walking out on their jobs or calling in sick. Pharmacies in as many as 15 states, including New York, were affected. A similar walk out occurred in Kansas City, Mo., pharmacies last September.

In a recent opinion piece published on CNN, four college professors who interpreted data from the 2022 National Pharmacist Workforce Study, a survey of 96,000 licensed pharmacists in the US, reported more than 60% of chain pharmacists who responded said they were experiencing high levels of work exhaustion, and nearly 80% reported low levels of job satisfaction. These numbers were much higher than community pharmacists practicing in independently-owned pharmacies, where nearly 15% of respondents reported high levels of work exhaustion, and less than 40% reported low levels of job satisfaction.

Harris Beach’s Pharmacy Law Team

These developments are not news to Harris Beach attorneys, who closely follow these and related pharmacy issues. Harris Beach’s New York pharmacy law lawyers have years of experience in pharmacy ownership and supervision. Led by a pharmacist-attorney, the team draws on insights gleaned from both scientific and legal credentials. We have earned a national reputation for providing general business counsel and successfully defending some of the largest entities in the pharmaceutical industry, as well as small independent pharmacies.

Our pharmacy law attorneys serve the general counsel needs of pharmacies and pharmacists through regulatory compliance, PBM audit support, contract review, corporate transactional, government investigation, real estate, data privacy and cybersecurity, labor and employment, immigration and intellectual property services.

If you need assistance with these or related matters, please reach out to attorney Marina Plotkin at (212) 313-5409 and mplotkin@harrisbeach.com, or the Harris Beach attorney with whom you most frequently work.

This alert is not a substitute for advice of counsel on specific legal issues.

Harris Beach has offices throughout New York state, including Albany, Buffalo, Ithaca, Long Island, New York City, Rochester, Saratoga Springs, Syracuse and White Plains, as well as Washington D.C., New Haven, Connecticut and Newark, New Jersey.