Hi-School Pharmacy isn't letting the challenges of being a small drug chain get in the way of efforts to branch out its pharmacy business.

Hi-School Pharmacy, drug chain, Jack Holt, Hi-School Pharmacy Services, pharmacy reimbursement, pharmacy benefit managers, PBM, retail pharmacy trade, regional drug chain, specialty pharmacy, MTM, medication therapy management, wellness programs, mail order pharmacy, NACDS, National Association of Chain Drug Stores, John Schultz

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Hi-School sizes up opportunities, challenges

April 19th, 2012

VANCOUVER, Wash. – Hi-School Pharmacy isn't letting the challenges of being a small drug chain get in the way of efforts to branch out its pharmacy business.

Hi-School, which has 28 stores in Washington and Oregon, is working on ways to reach out to customers and broaden access to its prescription drug services, as well as expand its pharmacy and health care offerings. Yet the pressures now facing the overall chain drug industry present an even bigger challenge to operators the size of Hi-School.

For example, obtaining adequate pharmacy reimbursements at a time when states and the federal government are saddled with large deficits is among the major issues that the chain is encountering this year, according to Jack Holt, co-president and chief operating officer of Hi-School Pharmacy Services.

"We are actively participating with retail pharmacy trade associations as well as meeting with our state and local elected officials to address the issue," Holt said.

Maintaining patient access to Hi-School's pharmacies in light of mergers in the pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) sector and mandatory mail order are other critical issues for Hi-School. "We try to get the word out to our pharmacists and technicians that they need to be involved in the grassroots effort to let our congressional representatives know of our concerns," said Holt.

In addition, as a small regional drug chain, Hi-School is grappling with access to specialty pharmacy items. "We are in continued discussions with some of the players in this arena but have not found a good solution yet," Holt said.

Still, the 2012 picture for Hi-School has bright spots. "We have expanded our influenza vaccination program this past year by promoting walk-in access versus in-store clinics," Holt said. "We look to expand into other adult vaccinations such as hepatitis B.

"We are also increasing customer touch points in each of our pharmacies, and we are piloting outbound calling for filled prescriptions with one vendor and are looking at rolling out a program for all stores by midyear," he added. "We are also considering hiring a clinical coordinator to assist in bringing our stores up to speed with regard to additional MTM [medication therapy management] opportunities, increasing the number of wellness programs that we offer, and taking on other opportunities that we see appearing for our pharmacists."

Hi-School, too, is honing its image as a locally owned and operated pharmacy. Most of the chain's stores are in rural towns, "in many of which we are the only pharmacy for our customers," noted Holt.

"We will continue to provide the items that they are looking for on a daily basis — providing a good value option for them — while bringing in a mix of impulse items that they did not know they needed until they shopped at one of our convenient locations," he explained.

Like other pharmacy retailers, Hi-School harbors "grave concerns" regarding mergers in the PBM industry. "We need some legislative relief from the federal government in this regard," Holt said. "Patients' access to their local pharmacy will be greatly impacted as changes happen in the PBM world."

He pointed out that Medicaid cuts have impacted the business in Washington and Oregon.

"It is hard to convince the legislators that pharmacy actually can save the programs money — but only if they can keep their doors open," Holt said. "We need state initiatives to level the playing field with regard to PBMs and mail-order pharmacy mandates.

"We have been active in the NACDS [National Association of Chain Drug Stores] RxImpact Day since its inception," he added, "and have found some sympathetic ears in Congress."