Lancaster-based woman-owned telemedicine company receives small business grant

Lancaster-based OvaryIt LLC recently announced that it will receive a Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Institutes of Health.

The $214,719 in funds will be used to study the use of OvaryIt’s proprietary technology platform to increase the adoption of pharmacist-prescribed contraceptive services nationwide.

OvaryIt, LLC is a woman-owned company “with a strong mission to increase access to family planning services and advance women’s health through technological innovation, direct-to-consumer contraceptive services, and scientific research,” a release said.

Women in rural areas have a more difficult time accessing contraceptive services, the release noted. Also, unintended pregnancy remains a major issue in the country, causing significant health and financial problems to mothers and their children, disproportionately affecting women of color and women of lower socio-economic status.

Mary Kucek, founder and CEO of OvaryIt, wrote in an email that 19 million women in the U.S. live in what is deemed a contraceptive desert, but 90% of the population is within 5 miles of a pharmacy. Though many states allow pharmacists to prescribe contraception, “the current paper-based process is inefficient and difficult to incorporate into daily practice for busy pharmacists. Therefore, even though many pharmacists are eligible to prescribe contraceptives, few do.”

She said the NIH grant will allow OvaryIt to research the feasibility of using its proprietary technology to create a more efficient process while increasing patient safety through built-in features and best practices. “By creating an improved solution, we aim to increase the availability of high-quality pharmacist-prescribed contraceptive services to combat the access-to-care and health equity issues that are unfortunately far too common in the U.S.”

In the release, Kucek said, “Pharmacists are well-trained, trusted health care providers and are highly capable of providing safe contraceptive services. When we built the OvaryIt platform, our primary mission was to increase safe contraceptive access for all. We strongly believe that (it) has the potential to change the contraceptive landscape and will empower more pharmacies to provide these services to promote more equitable and inclusive contraceptive access.”

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Ganse Apothecary sold to health care equity firm

Lancaster’s Ganse Apothecary has been acquired by WindRose Health Investors LLC, a New York-based health care private equity firm.

Terms were undisclosed.

Ganse also merged with Terrapin Pharmacy, an existing WindRose portfolio business headquartered in Annapolis, Maryland, creating a leading behavioral health pharmacy platform in the mid-Atlantic.

Ganse is a specialty, long-term care and retail pharmacy that serves patients with severe and persistent mental illness and intellectual and developmental disabilities, while Terrapin serves patients through community-based behavioral health and long-term care facilities across Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

Terrapin and Ganse serve approximately 7,500 patients in these four states and D.C.

“We are thrilled for the future of the combined business and are excited to partner with such a well-respected provider as Ganse,” Mark Peterson, executive chairman of Terrapin’s board of directors, said in a release. “Ganse’s long history of providing high quality, value-added pharmacy services to this population aligns perfectly with Terrapin and our core mission.”

Greg Ganse, CEO and president of Ganse, will assume a leadership role at Terrapin.

“We are incredibly excited to partner with Terrapin Pharmacy,” Ganse said. “It was important for us to find a partner that shared the values and principles on which Ganse was founded over 50 years ago. I’m confident we have found that in Terrapin and that the combined company’s patients will continue to receive the high-quality care they deserve.”

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Highmark Health partners with tech platform, looks to streamline member access to specialty medications 

Highmark Health is working with a Pittsburgh-based health care technology startup to streamline member access to prescription drugs from specialty pharmacies. 

Free Market Health, a cloud-based marketplace created to make it easier for insurers to authorize specialty medications to the pharmacy, and ultimately the patient, announced that it has raised $13.5 million in Series A Funding. 

Highmark’s capital investment arm, Highmark Ventures, was one of a number of companies, including 653 Investment Partners and Alta Partners, to support the funding round. 

Highmark has worked with Free Market Health’s market platform to remove pain points in the specialty pharmacy process, said Sarah Marche, senior vice president of pharmacy services for Highmark Inc. 

“Our collaboration with Free Market Health means that Highmark members will enjoy quicker access to prescription drugs for chronic, high-cost health conditions, from specialty pharmacies tailored to serve their particular condition,” Marche said in a press release. “Working with Free Market Health advances our goal of transforming the pharmacy experience for our members and ensuring they have access to proven, affordable prescription drugs that help them be at their best.” 

Specialty drugs make up just under half of Highmark’s $5 billion in annual drug spending, while specialty drugs make up less than 1% of the insurer’s claim volume, according to Marche. 

“A very small percentage is driving a large percentage of our spend,” she said, adding that Highmark is currently collecting data to see what savings it can see under the platform. “We are not at the point of having a full savings report.” 

Free Market was founded in 2019 with the goal of balancing the cost of care and the value that care provides. The company wrote in its release that it has a year of full scale operating under its belt and in that year, it has facilitated a match of thousands of specialty medication referrals and has hundreds of millions of dollars in specialty medication spend under management. 

“Until now, no model seamlessly matched patients to the specialty pharmacy best suited for their care needs, let alone enabled the type of value orientation under a market-driven and dynamic reimbursement framework,” said Pete Hudson, managing director at Alta Partners, a health care venture capital firm. “Free Market Health sits at the intersection of price, value, and efficiency, for the ultimate benefit of the patient.” 

Rite Aid to close 63 stores, expects further closures in the future 


Rite Aid plans to shutter 63 of its stores as part of the first phase of a new store closure program, the Camp Hill-based pharmacy chain announced in its third quarter results for 2021. 

The stores chosen for closure have yet to be named. The closures are expected to provide the company with an annual EBITDA benefit of $25 million. 

“Today, we also announced the first phase of a store closure program to reduce costs, drive improved profitability and ensure that we have a healthy foundation to grow from, with the right stores in the right locations, for the communities we serve and for our business,” said Heyward Donigan, president and CEO of Rite Aid. 

Rite Aid expects to increase the number of store closures in the coming months as it continues to review its 2,488 retail pharmacy locations across 17 states. Employees impacted by the closures will be able to transfer to other stores. 

In its third quarter results, Rite Aid reported $6.23 billion in revenues from continuing operations during the 13-week period ending Nov. 27—an increase from $6.12 billion during the same period last year. 

The pharmacy chain noted in its report that the 1.8% increase was driven by growth within its retail pharmacy segment, partially offset by a decline in its pharmacy services segment. 

The company reported a net loss from continuing operations of $36.1 million this quarter, a jump of 739% over the $4.3 million in the third quarter of 2020.  

“The increase in net loss is due primarily to higher facility exit and impairment charges driven by the company’s store closure decisions,” Rite Aid wrote in its report. “Other variance drivers include a LIFO charge in the current quarter compared to a Last in, First Out (LIFO) credit in the prior year third quarter and a lower gain on the sale of assets. These items were partially offset by an increase in adjusted EBITDA and lower depreciation and amortization expense.” 

Rite Aid announced in September that it will move its headquarters to Philadelphia early next year as it shifts to a focus on remote work. 

As part of the move, Rite Aid plans to open “regional collaboration centers” across the country that will allow its teams to work together when needed. Rite Aid hasn’t announced where these hubs will be located but has confirmed that one will be in the midstate. 

Camp Hill-based Elixer names Neill COO 


Elixir, a wholly owned subsidiary of Camp Hill-based Rite Aid Corp., has a new chief operating officer.

Lance Neill, a veteran health care and pharmacy executive, was named to the post after most recently serving as vice president of network development and contracting for Centene’s portfolio of managed care products.

Previously, he held senior leadership roles with such major health care brands as Diplomat Pharmacy and Walmart Inc.

Elixir is a pharmacy services provider “offering pharmacy benefit management, Medicare-approved prescription drug plans, mail and specialty pharmacy solutions, and prescription discount programs,” according to a release.

As COO, Neill will oversee core operational functions, including Elixir Insurance, and be responsible for strategy development.

“Elixir is a critical component of Rite Aid’s growth strategy, and we are doubling-down on our investment to position the company as a market leader,” Heyward Donigan, Rite Aid’s president and CEO, said in the release. “Lance is a seasoned and trusted industry executive who consistently delivers results.”

Rite Aid operates more than 2,500 retail pharmacies in 17 states.

Rite Aid rolls out a new store design aimed at women and younger shoppers

Entering Rite Aid’s new store in Newberry Township, York County, customers are immediately welcomed by a beauty department headed by a customer service counter and beauty ambassadors.

All along the store’s shelves, products from brands previously not featured in Rite Aid’s stores have prominent billing such as new beauty brands Doll Face and additional options for pet foods such as Blue Wilderness.

Leading to the back, the pharmacy is its own department with pharmacists manning a counter and, in a room beside the pharmacy, customers can receive telehealth consultations through Amwell Virtual Care.

The Newberry Township concept is one of two new modern store designs the Camp Hill-based pharmacy chain is testing as Rite Aid looks to improve sales among women between the ages of 25 and 49.

“We need to reach into other audiences and build our pipeline for growth,” said Erik Keptner, chief marketing and merchandising officer at Rite Aid. “That’s why we are tuning much of our merchandising to attract that customer, but not at the expense of retaining our current customers.”

To attract the younger female demographics it is hoping to bring in, Rite Aid’s two new stores, one in York County and the other in Littleton, New Hampshire, emphasize products popular with younger customers such as organic, non-GMO and cruelty-free foods.

The company’s emphasis on beauty products is also meant to bring in more customers in the new target demographic.

The changes were a longtime coming, Keptner said, adding it was clear the company could grow its share of beauty shoppers by introducing new services and brands.

“The people who shop beauty are often pharmacy customers as well,” he said. “The beauty department creates stickiness with the customer and they come back again and again. This is us recognizing that we have to elevate our game.”

Rite Aid also changed how it viewed its pharmacy and pharmacists by redesigning the department to look and operate like a store counter with pharmacists getting from behind the counter to show customers options for over the counter medications inside the store.

The design for the pharmacy is also more noticeable from the back of the store, which Keptner said will help make its stores more customer-friendly and easier to navigate. Additions such as lower shelving in the middle of the store to allow for better sightlines across the building were also meant to create a better experience for customers.

Beside the pharmacy is a new service for Rite Aid stores– a telemedicine room that customers can use to communicate with physicians through a new Rite Aid partnership with Boston-based Amwell Virtual Care.

Summer Williams Kerley, vice president of clinical services at Rite Aid, said the option for virtual care will allow customers with urgent or acute care needs to receive a prescription and pick them up in one place.

“If I’m speaking to someone and I know an over the counter medicine won’t help, they can then speak to someone with Amwell and get a prescription filled out,” she said.

Rite Aid intends to open seven more pilot locations across the country in the coming months using a layout similar to the one in the York County store. If the concept is successful, the company will consider renovating stores in Boise, Idaho; and Virginia Beach.

Keptner said that Rite Aid stores across the country are already benefiting from the added brands being used in the new modern concepts, but as the concept continues to gather interest, parts of Rite Aid’s new strategy will be utilized in the company’s 2,464 stores.

Lancaster pharmacy agrees to pay restitution, civil penalties for price gouging

A Lancaster-based pharmacy accused of price gouging customers on N95 face masks has agreed to pay $1,765 in civil penalties and $741 in restitution in a settlement with Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

Shapiro announced the settlement with Regional Discount Pharmacy following an investigation that found the pharmacy sold 353 face masks for $8 each between March 6 and June 22. The price violated state law limiting price mark ups to no more than 20 percent during an emergency, Shapiro said.

The office wrote in a statement that the masks were sold at an overcharge of $2.10, or 26.25%

“Pennsylvanians need security and financial protection right now, especially when so many have lost wages and 30% are out of work,” said Shapiro in a statement. “You have a right in Pennsylvania to purchase life-saving goods at reasonable prices in times like this.”

As part of the settlement, Regional Discount Pharmacy agreed to comply with all provisions of the Pennsylvania Consumer Protection Law and Price Gouging Act moving forward.

Shapiro announced a similar price gouging settlement last week after a New Jersey-based pharmacy supplier that allegedly price gouged on hand sanitizer sold to Pennsylvania pharmacies.

Rite Aid opens testing sites in Harrisburg, York Township

Rite Aid opened two self-swab testing sites in the midstate this week with locations in Dauphin and York counties.

Rite Aid began offering the testing at its 2604 Linglestown Road store in Harrisburg on Tuesday and at its 115 Leader Heights Road store in York Township, York County on Thursday.

Both midstate locations are open for testing from 9 am to 5 pm seven days a week and are expected to conduct about 200 tests each day.

Testing is free and only available to individuals who meet criteria for testing established by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Late last month, the Camp Hill-based pharmacy chain piloted its first COVID-19 test at one of its stores in Philadelphia.

The self-swab nasal tests are overseen by Rite Aid pharmacists in a store’s parking lot and individuals looking to be tested must pre-register online.

Following a positive response from the first testing site, Rite Aid announced it would be expanding its tests to Rite Aid Stores in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Michigan, Connecticut and Virginia.

Rite Aid appoints new retail executive

Rite Aid appointed Andre Persuad as its new Executive Vice President of Retail on Tuesday. (PHOTO/ SUBMITTED)

Rite Aid’s newest executive vice president of retail joined the Camp Hill-based pharmacy chain this week.

Andre Persuad, a former executive consultant of Keasbey, New Jersey-based supermarket cooperative Wakefern Food Corp., will be leading the retail operations of Rite Aid’s 2,400 retail pharmacy locations.

Within his new role, Persuad will be responsible for store operations, inventory and supply chain management, field team management and asset protection and facility maintenance.

“Andre has demonstrated proven success when it comes to leading a transformational retail strategy,” Heyward Donigan, CEO of Rite Aid, said in a press release on Tuesday. “The company has many exciting growth initiatives planned for 2020 and beyond. With Andre on board, we will move quickly to build on existing Rite Aid customer loyalty and implement a compelling, go-forward retail vision.”

Persuad has 25 years of retail leadership experience at organizations such as Wal-Mart Canada, Burlington Stores and Shopko. He said he is looking forward to joining Rite Aid at a time where customer expectations of retail pharmacies are rapidly changing.

“They want a more engaged health and wellness experience, more relevant, curated merchandise and a seamless retail experience,” Persuad said.