Health care professionals are the lifeblood of a pharmacy’s business model.
For many, they serve as a source of revenue and income, but for others, the job is a precarious one.
In the US, nearly one-third of pharmacists have no paid-time-off or other benefits.
There’s also a growing trend to shift more of the work from the pharmacy itself to a third party like a company that offers insurance, or pays out cash benefits.
Pharmacists who don’t get paid, or are forced to rely on other health care workers to make ends meet, can have a hard time finding a new job, and may not be able to save up enough to pay for health insurance, according to a recent study by the American Pharmacists Association (APA).
That’s one reason why many pharmacists are turning to their own insurance, which is expensive, and a big barrier for many to finding a job.
“The health care industry is really dependent on having insurance,” says Sarah Rainsford, the APA’s director of health care policy.
The drugstore chain Walgreens has invested heavily in providing health care benefits, as well as expanding the number of pharmacist-only health insurance plans, which are available through the ACA.
The company recently expanded the availability of health benefits through an app called MyHealthFirst, which lets consumers compare different plans and get an estimate of how much they might pay out of pocket for a typical month of coverage.
That’s a big deal for many pharmacist employees, because they are often one of the few employees who can get benefits on their own.
And the drugstore giant says it has a plan in place to cover those workers.
Walgops health benefits, which cover prescription drugs, dental care, vision care, and vision and hearing aids, are among the largest on the market.
“We are going to be working closely with the ACA, the Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to ensure that we can provide coverage to all of our employees,” said Walgies general manager for pharmacy services in a statement.
“That includes pharmacists who do not have health insurance.”
But Walgills decision to expand its health benefits comes at a critical time for pharmacy workers.
In 2020, health insurance premiums increased for the first time in 20 years, which has created uncertainty about whether they can afford their health insurance in the future.
“In terms of their coverage and their ability to pay their premiums, we have to look at the long term,” says Rainsfield.
And as more health care plans offer cheaper health plans, many pharmacis workers are seeing their health coverage drop.
“Many of our pharmacists were seeing premiums go up in the past few years, and it really puts a strain on them, especially those who are not eligible for Medicaid or Medicare,” says Leland Anderson, president of the American Association of Pharmacists.
Anderson said some pharmacists might be able pay a little more than they used to.
“But a lot of pharmacis are still struggling to pay the full cost of health insurance,” he said.
For some pharmacis, that means a higher deductible, which means they may have to switch to a different plan, or even take out new loans.
“You’re probably going to have to make some financial sacrifices, or have to work overtime to pay your deductible,” says Anderson.
Pharmacy workers are also going to need more education in order to make the transition to health care, especially if they don’t have the training or education to get a job in the first place.
Pharmacies have long had to find ways to offer insurance to employees.
In recent years, some states have started requiring pharmacists to offer coverage, including some that have been in business for decades.
The federal government also has pushed for pharmacists’ participation in Medicaid and Medicare.
But pharmacy companies have long resisted those requirements, arguing that they will harm their bottom lines and discourage people from seeking out the coverage.
Many pharmacists in states that have recently expanded Medicaid and other health programs are facing the same challenge.
“Our pharmacy industry is going through some tough times right now, and I think it’s important for our industry to step up and do its part to make sure that we are able to offer affordable health insurance for our employees and for our community,” says Scott Taylor, the CEO of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.
That may be easier said than done.
As more pharmacists leave the profession and start looking for new jobs, many employers have stopped paying pharmacists, or forced them to cut hours, which leads to fewer pharmacists and fewer patients.
And that can mean fewer medications that could be dispensed and fewer products that can be bought, which can lead to fewer prescriptions for people with chronic health conditions like diabetes or hypertension.
It’s also an issue that affects people of all ages, from kids who can’t afford medication to the