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Oregon Health Officials Seek Community Help to Review Proposed Kroger-Albertsons Merger

The Oregon Health Authority is seeking community members to help them assess how the proposed merger between Albertsons and Kroger could impact more than 150 pharmacies across the state.

The state health department said it’s reviewing the deal between the two biggest grocery chains in Oregon “to make sure they won’t harm people and communities.” Erica Joy Heartquist, health policy communication officer at Oregon Health Authority, said the agency wants to understand how the Kroger deal could affect access to pharmacy services for communities across the state.

In Oregon, Kroger’s Fred Meyer banner operates 53 retail pharmacies, while Albertsons and its Safeway stores operate 106 pharmacies. Combined, they represent 11% of the state’s pharmacy market.

Kroger said in a statement that no pharmacies will be closed, including those that would be sold as part of a divestiture plan.

The proposed merger comes as many Oregonians are already losing access to neighborhood pharmacies. Rite Aid filed for bankruptcy this fall and is closing more than 150 stores, including some in Oregon. CVS and Walgreens are closing stores, too, as they cope with their own financial issues.

To support Oregon’s regulatory review, the health department is forming a community board that will “provide input about potential effects of the deal and make a recommendation to OHA about whether the deal should proceed as planned,” according to the agency.

Heartquist said the department is seeking medical providers, pharmacists or pharmacy technicians, consumer advocates, as well as Albertsons, Safeway or Fred Meyer pharmacy customers to join the group.

Kroger, the parent company of Fred Meyer and QFC, announced plans to buy Albertsons, which owns Safeway, last October for $24.6 billion by early 2024. The two companies hope to finalize the merger by early 2024.

It’s unclear when the Federal Trade Commission will decide whether to approve or challenge the deal. Regulators had originally planned to rule this month but new court filings indicate the deadline has slipped to Jan. 17.

In an attempt to mollify antitrust regulators, the companies announced in September that they would sell off 413 stores, including 49 in Oregon, as well as eight distribution centers and two offices for a total of $1.9 billion to New Hampshire-based C&S Wholesale Grocers. As part of the plan, Kroger could also require C&S Wholesale to purchase up to 237 additional stores. Those stores’ pharmacies and gas stations would be included.

In an August 2023 filing with the Oregon Health Authority, Kroger said it “expects that the merged company will better be able to partner with its suppliers of prescription drugs and other health care goods to drive efficiencies in the supply chain that will reduce costs, resulting in lower prices for its customers.”

Those who want to learn more about the community review board can visit OHA’s website or email hcmo.info@oha.oregon.gov. Public comments about the Kroger-Albertsons proposed merger can also be submitted by email with the word “Kroger” on the subject line.

Source: Oregonlive