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Drugstores prepare, compete for 25 million newly insured customers

The nation's major drugstore chains are moving beyond doling out drugs and Kleenex by opening more in-store clinics and offering more health care products, in part to serve an aging population that needs more care.

It's also a response to the extensive U.S. health care overhaul, which is expected to add about 25 million newly insured people who will need medical care and prescriptions. And drugstores are offering more services as a way to boost revenue in the face of competition from retailers like Safeway and Walmart, which have added in-store pharmacies.

Beth Stiller, a divisional vice president at Walgreen, the nation's largest drugstore chain, said the changes are necessary because time-pressed customers have come to expect that they will be able to do more than just fill a prescription at drugstores.

Up until about five years ago, the major drugstore chains focused on adding stores, not services. Then when states started allowing pharmacists to provide flu shots, it paved the way for drugstores to begin offering other immunizations for diseases like pneumonia and shingles.

And after Congress passed the health care overhaul in 2010, drugstores started adding more in-store clinics to help serve the newly insured population that will be created by that law. At the same time, grocers and other big retailers have started beefing up their health care offerings to compete with pharmacies for customers.

So drugstores are expanding their offerings to stay competitive. Rite Aid, the nation's No. 3 chain, has converted more than 900 of its 4,615 locations to a "wellness" format it introduced in 2011. The stores offer organic soups, pastas and juices and a line of home fitness equipment like yoga mats and dumbbells that Rite Aid helped design.

CVS Caremark, the No. 2 drugstore in the U.S., runs more than 650 MinuteClinics that are staffed by nurse practitioners or physician assistants and handle largely minor illnesses like pinkeye. CVS also offers acne consultations and monitoring of chronic conditions such as diabetes. The company aims to operate about 1,500 MinuteClinics by 2017.

For its part, Walgreen has opened 11 flagship stores across the country that offer extras like the barista-prepared coffee, juice and smoothie bars, and boutiques that provide services like eyebrow grooming.

Walgreen has also launched a "Well Experience" format in about 400 of its more than 8,000 stores nationwide. These stores feature expanded beauty options, fresh food and groceries, and private rooms for pharmacist consultations.

Drugstores prepare, compete for 25 million newly insured customers 08/07/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 7, 2013 10:10pm]
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