Express Scripts aims to boost independent pharmacists in rural areas

Express Scripts is rolling out new programs that aim to better support independent pharmacies in rural areas.

The pharmacy benefit management giant said Thursday that the IndependentRx Initiative is designed to build on a slew of recently announced updates to its model that put a focus on greater transparency. The PBM said it will boost reimbursement to independent pharmacies that are the only location within 10 or more miles of an Express Scripts customer.

This includes growing incentive-based programs that pay for performance, such as when a pharmacy dispenses 90-day prescriptions to improve medication adherence.

The PBM added that these pharmacies will have greater opportunities to participate in its retail pharmacy network.

Adam Kautzner, president of Express Scripts, said in the release that independent pharmacies are critical in addressing care gaps in rural areas, as just 10% of physicians practice in these regions.

"That's why we're committed to leveraging and supporting the clinical expertise of pharmacists who want to do more for their patients," he said. "By deepening our partnership, together we will remove barriers to care, reduce total medical costs and improve vitality, community by community across the U.S."

Express Scripts said it expects the program to benefit thousands of independent pharmacies nationwide, and the company plans to continue growing the initiative over time.

In addition, the PBM said it will collaborate with other parts of Evernorth Health Services to make it easier for members to access certain key routine and preventive services at independent pharmacies, which would both open new business avenues for the pharmacies as well as make it more convenient for patients.

Express Scripts will reimburse these pharmacies for multiple clinical services including COVID-19 vaccines, prescriptions for acute infections, virus testing, lifestyle counseling such as smoking cessation and behavioral health screenings.

"Independent pharmacies already add value beyond dispensing medications—and they can do even more," Kautzner said. "We need to ensure rural communities have access to the same quality, affordable care as those living in densely populated communities. Where you live shouldn't dictate the type of care you receive or how long you have to wait for it."

Finally, Express Scripts said it will launch a new Independent Pharmacy Advisory Committee, which it said is an industry first. The panel will convene pharmacy leaders from rural, urban and suburban regions to further drive competitive reimbursement and share lessons learned from business practices.

The committee will also seek to find new ways to deploy independent pharmacists to address ongoing provider shortages, Express Scripts said.

"By bringing together a differentiated set of perspectives and expertise, we'll unlock new innovation opportunities and accelerate a sustained commitment to pharmacies and patients across the country," Kautzner said.