PHARMACY

Congress’ plan for Medicaid payment doesn’t go far enough, NCPA charges

BY Jim Frederick

WASHINGTON New health reform proposals being mulled in Congress contain some pharmacy-friendly concepts but don’t go nearly far enough to address the impasse over low Medicaid prescription payments, the independent pharmacy lobby charged Tuesday.

That charge came in reaction to a “discussion draft” of healthcare reform legislation released by the House Education and Labor, Energy and Commerce, and Ways and Means Committees. The airing of the draft marked an early step in what likely is to be a long and contentious legislative process over the summer, as Democrats and Republicans wrestle over plans for the biggest change to the U.S. healthcare system in decades.

Nevertheless, the National Community Pharmacists Association already is raising concerns over elements in the proposed legislation that would keep the basic structure of the current Medicaid pharmacy payment system intact. “We’re grateful that [the congressional panels] recognized the need to change the flawed rule that will pay pharmacies on average 36% below their acquisition cost for Medicaid pharmacy generic prescription drug reimbursements using an average manufacturer price formula,” said NCPA EVP and CEO Bruce Roberts. “Unfortunately, the fix does not go far enough.”

In particular, Roberts told lawmakers, “the discussion draft’s 130% of weighted average AMP still dramatically underpays pharmacies below the product acquisition cost. As a result, too many community pharmacies would still be forced to limit or even leave the Medicaid program. That limits patient access, which is not a desirable outcome for anyone interested in keeping these patients healthy,” he added.

Independent pharmacy also has other concerns as Congress mulls health reform, said Roberts. Among them, he noted, is a strong belief “that health insurance plans, including any new government-sponsored plan, should offer medication therapy management services that maximize patient outcomes with prescription drugs. We also urge inclusion of H.R. 616 and H.R. 1970, which would exempt pharmacies from unwarranted bureaucratic hurdles to the selling of durable medical supplies, such as diabetes testing strips.

“Finally, we believe that the disclosure of the financial relationship between manufacturers and the administrators of prescription drug plans — pharmacy benefit managers — is critical to reducing costs that can be passed onto consumers,” Roberts added. “At the end of the day, real reform needs to control the exploding costs of health care, and this is one way of ensuring that occurs.”

Roberts acknowledged that “this is just one of the first steps in the House process and that changes to the bill are likely. We also empathize with members of Congress facing extraordinarily tight budget constraints.” NCPA staff, Roberts said, “will continue working with lawmakers to find solutions for the reimbursement of Medicaid generic drugs and other issues that allow independent community pharmacies to continue providing critical access to their patients.

“We’re hopeful that, once the legislative process runs its course, the final bill will reflect that admirable goal,” Roberts said.

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Obama signs tobacco legislation

BY Alaric DeArment

WASHINGTON President Barack Obama signed legislation into law Monday that imposes sweeping new regulations on tobacco.

The law, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, bans several common tobacco products and marketing techniques and creates a new center within the Food and Drug Administration, the Center for Tobacco Products, to oversee regulation of the industry.

In an address in the White House Rose Garden, Obama cited the tobacco industry’s targeting of children.

“They’re aggressively targeted as customers by the tobacco industry,” Obama said. “They’re exposed to a constant and insidious barrage of advertising where they live, where they learn and where they play. Most insidiously, they are offered products with flavorings that mask the taste of tobacco and make it more tempting.”

Those products, such as cigarettes flavored with cloves and fruit, will be gone by October, though menthol cigarettes will remain legal. Products advertised as “light,” “low-tar” and “mild” will disappear from store shelves by July 2010.

Other youth-targeted marketing, such as sponsorship of athletic and entertainment events using tobacco product brand names and logos, selling or giving out promotional items with brand names and logos of tobacco products and distributing free cigarette samples will also be banned, as will tobacco advertising within 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds. Distributing free samples of smokeless tobacco will still be allowed in adults-only venues.

Tobacco companies must submit to the agency a full list of additives and ingredients in tobacco products, a description of nicotine content and delivery and information about the health effects of tobacco by January 2010. By July 2011, cigarette packs will carry warning labels that occupy half of the front and back panels.

“Today, thanks to the work of Democrats and Republicans, healthcare and consumer advocates, the decades-long effort to protect our children from the harmful effects of tobacco has emerged victorious,” Obama said.

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Glen’s Markets launches generic discount program

BY Alaric DeArment

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. A supermarket chain in the Midwest has launched a generic discount program.

Glen’s Markets announced Friday that all of its pharmacies serving communities throughout northern Michigan will begin selling 30-day supplies of more than 300 generic drugs for $4 and 90-day supplies for $10.

“Our expanded generic drug program is another example of the many ways we are making it easier for customers to stretch their food, healthcare and household dollars,” EVP merchandising Alan Hartline stated. “Our customers can continue to rely on the expert health counsel and friendly service our team of professional pharmacists consistently offer.”

The Grand Rapids, Mich.-based chain gradually has introduced the program in its stores that have pharmacies. Glen’s Markets is the latest chain to offer a generic discount program since Walmart began the trend in 2006.

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