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CMS: Quality associated with Medicare Advantage and Part D Prescription Drug Program rising

BY Michael Johnsen

BALTIMORE — Quality associated with Medicare Advantage and the Part D Prescription Drug Program is on the rise, as about 60% of seniors with a Medicare Advantage Plan are currently enrolled in plans with four or more stars for 2015, compared to an estimated 17% in 2009, according to a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services blog post published Friday. Medicare Advantage enrollment is projected to reach an all-time high in 2015, with more than 16 million beneficiaries. 
 
Likewise, about 53% of Part D enrollees are currently enrolled in stand-alone prescription drug plans with four or more stars for 2015, compared to just 16% in 2009.
 
In addition, the 2015 Part B premiums will not change for the second consecutive year. "This means more of seniors’ retirement income — and any increase in Social Security benefits — stays in their pockets," said Marilyn Tavenner, CMS administrator. "Thanks to slower than expected growth in health care, premiums and deductibles in 2015 for the approximately 49 million Americans enrolled in Original Medicare will remain unchanged at $104.90 and $147, respectively. For the fourth year in a row, Medicare premium costs are meeting or beating expectations. According to Health & Human Services, premiums will be at least $125 lower over the course of a year then what the Congressional Budget Office estimated for 2015 back in 2009," she said. 
 
"We’re continuing to work hard to make sure this good news continues. The lower costs and better care is good news for the trust funds, great news for taxpayers, and even better news for people with Medicare," Tavenner added.
 
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Earth’s Nectar all-natural hair care now available on Sephora.com

BY Antoinette Alexander

HOUSTON — The Earth's Nectar line of all-natural hair care products is now available online at Sephora.com, the beauty brand has announced.

"Positioning our all-natural products in front of the discriminating shoppers of Sephora.com is an incredible opportunity," stated Earth's Nectar owner and founder Tamika Fletcher. "The Sephora name means innovation, and we wholeheartedly embrace that concept by formulating solutions that rely only on a small list of natural ingredients. Earth's Nectar has a product to make hair stronger, healthier and more manageable, whether it's curly, straight or transitional."

Monoi Hair Milk, which is a coconut oil-based hair balm, is the original Earth's Nectar product and remains a top seller a decade later. Today, the complete line of Earth's Nectar Skin and Hair Care solutions includes moisturizers, styling agents, shampoos and conditioners, scalp oils, products for the whole body and fragrances.
 

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Kantar Retail: Dollar General maintains overall opening price point leadership position

BY Michael Johnsen

BOSTON – Kantar Retail’s fourth annual opening price point study found that while Dollar General is maintaining its overall opening price point leadership position, its lead is by no means commanding.  
 
For the third consecutive year, Dollar General‘s overall basket was the least expensive, edging out Walmart Supercenter’s basket by 2.5%, representing a widening of the gap between the two in the 2013 study. Dollar General was also able to widen its price gap with rival Family Dollar. In a change from previous years, the nonedible basket is what drove Dollar General’s overall basket lead over Walmart, as Walmart’s edible grocery and HBA sub-baskets were less expensive than Dollar General's this year.  
 
According to Mike Paglia, director of retail insights for Kantar Retail and a contributor to the study, “this year’s results indicate that Dollar General is leveraging nonedible categories to implement its OPP value message at the basket level, which is consistent with the retailer’s stated initiatives.”
 
In this year’s study, Kantar Retail selected 21 categories across the edible grocery, non-edible grocery and HBA segments. All data was collected in southeastern Massachusetts in September 2014. For each retailer, Kantar Retail assessed the lowest price point available to the shopper in that category regardless of brand or pack size (excluding trial sizes) so that the budget-strapped shopper could minimally meet her purchase requirements across categories.
 
Although Dollar General’s overall basket was the cheapest, OPP leadership differed for each sub-basket: Aldi was the cheapest in edible; Dollar General took the lead in nonedible; and Walmart posted the cheapest HBA sub-basket. Conversely, Target’s total OPP basket was the most expensive of the competitors assessed.  
 
Source: Kantar Retail analysis, store visits 
 
Study results indicate that promotional pricing had a substantial impact on Dollar General’s OPP price leadership.  Walmart’s position was aided by its low OPP, “88cent” initiative, while Aldi’s “food first” strategy was demonstrated by its considerable OPP leadership in the edible sub-basket. “Family Dollar struggles to provide shoppers with the means to stay on budget,” Paglia said. “Arguably, its newly announced ad matching campaign is likely intended to help shoppers in this respect, while remaining competitive with other retailers.”  Stop & Shop varied considerably in its pricing and thus its relative competitiveness, and despite efforts to be value-oriented, the retailer seems to be able to meet the needs of the low-income shopper on particular SKUs.
 
“Taken together, the low-income shopper has an array of credible options when it comes to selecting outlets that meet her basket requirements,” Paglia said. Given the variability among retailers in leading each of the three sub-baskets, shoppers appear best served by cherry-picking multiple retailers rather than leveraging a one-stop shop. Such a routine favors the shopper who is willing to compare prices on a regular basis and swap destinations for a particular item as necessary. “Retailers who are able to provide both actual and perceived price leadership, in part through opening price points, will win wallet share with this large shopper segment,” Paglia said. 
 
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