PHARMACY

As Congress weighs HIT bill, NACDS again airs privacy concerns

BY Jim Frederick

ALEXANDRIA, Va. As Congress debates legislation to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system and spur the nationwide adoption of health information technology, pharmacy and health groups continue to sound alarms about the potential havoc such legislation could wreak on their businesses and patient relationships if privacy provisions within any new bills aren’t handled with care.

A Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today on HIT was the latest stage on which the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and other groups aired those concerns. The hearing, titled “Health IT: Protecting Americans’ Privacy in the Digital Age,” drew written testimony from NACDS, the National Business Group on Health and other organizations that operate at the intersection of patient care, electronic recordkeeping and the instantaneous storage and transmission of patient data.

Their concern is that Congressional policymakers and staff, in their rush to adopt new and tougher patient-privacy guidelines, may lack a full understanding about the practices and HIPAA privacy protections already in place at the nation’s pharmacies. And that, say pharmacy and health advocates, could lead to a new set of burdensome and unnecessary regulations that could interrupt the flow of vital medical information and the relationships among patients, pharmacists and other health care entities. 

In a letter dated Jan. 27 to the Senate judiciary panel, NACDS voiced the same concerns it raised in a similar message to the House Ways & Means Committee last week.

“Chain pharmacy has been on the leading edge of the adoption of HIT for many years. We have been actively involved in fostering the use of technology to improve the quality of patient care and developing standards to allow the exponential growth of HIT in pharmacy practice,” NACDS told Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy,D-Vt., and other panel members.

“Today, most pharmacies in the United States have the capability to receive electronic prescriptions,” NACDS continued. “Electronic prescribing technology connects physicians and other prescribers with pharmacies and health plans to streamline the delivery of patient care.” 

However, the letter cautioned, lawmakers should reconsider many of the so-called “privacy” provisions in the pending legislation. “Our primary goal is for legislation not to interfere with pharmacies’ ability to provide the communications necessary to ensure high quality patient care, while assuring protections for PHI [protected health information]. We have seen many provisions in federal legislation that would be operationally difficult and costly, more so for pharmacies than other health care providers,” NACDS warned. 

Other groups joined NACDS in urging restraint. Among them, the National Business Group on Health, which sent a letter to Leahy and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the ranking member of the Senate panel, reiterating its position that “extending the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act [HIPAA] privacy and security standards to the use of electronic personal health information is sufficient to protect patient privacy.” 

Also weighing into the debate over electronic medical records [EMRs] is the pharmacy benefit management industry. The largest PBM industry trade group, the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, sent a letter Monday to House lawmakers urging them to resist adopting privacy provisions that undermine patient access to medicines or professional counseling. 

“We are encouraged that policymakers recognize the importance in funding EMRs which use e-prescribing,” said PCMA president and CEO Mark Merritt. “However, spending billions on new HIT systems that contain unworkable privacy provisions would waste an historic opportunity to improve chronic care and prevent countless medical errors and hospitalizations.”

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Harris Poll: More consumers buying generics, drugs at Wal-Mart-like stores

BY Alaric DeArment

ROCHESTER, N.Y. How and where people by prescription drugs and what drugs they buy have changed substantially over the past two years, according to the Harris Poll.

The poll, released Monday, found that between October 2006 and December 2008, the proportion of adults who would choose generic drugs over branded drugs increased from 68% to 81%, and the number who would choose branded drugs decreased from 32% to 19%. 

Mass merchandisers have also gotten more customers at their pharmacies. Purchases of drugs at stores like Wal-Mart and Target increased from 13% to 17%, while purchases through mail-order and online pharmacies increased from 11% to 15%. Meanwhile, retail pharmacy chains have seen a decrease, from 39% to 33%, while purchases at independent pharmacies have dropped from 12% to 8%. 

The poll was based on an online survey of 2,388 adults nationwide conducted between Dec. 9 and 15. Results were weighted for factors such as age, sex, household income, education, race and ethnicity. 

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Coster joins independent Rx team to spearhead government affairs, policy

BY Jim Frederick

ALEXANDRIA, Va. Retail pharmacy and policy veteran John Coster has joined the National Community Pharmacists Association as SVP government affairs, succeeding Charlie Sewell. His appointment to the independent pharmacy organization is effective immediately.

Coster, a licensed pharmacist and vocal advocate for the profession, is well known to pharmacy stakeholders and to policymaking staffs on Capitol Hill. He last served as VP federal affairs and public policy for Rite Aid Corp., and prior to that was the high-profile VP policy and programs for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores.

Coster has also worked for former Senator David Pryor, D-Ark., and on the staff of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging and within the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment. He also served on the Task Force on Health Care Reform during the Clinton Administration. 

NCPA EVP and CEO Bruce Roberts praised Coster as a well-respected expert in pharmacy and public policy. “As a pharmacist himself, with extensive legislative and policy experience, John will be an outstanding addition to the NCPA team. We are pleased that a pharmacist will be a strong voice for community pharmacy on Capitol Hill and in the regulatory agencies,” said Roberts. 

Added NCPA president Holly Henry, “I look forward to having John Coster represent community pharmacy for NCPA in Washington, D.C. John’s expertise will give community pharmacy the competitive advantage it needs to be part of the overall health care dialogue.” 

Coster, who earned a degree in pharmacy from St. John’s University in New York, and his Masters and Ph.D. in Policy Sciences with a concentration in health from the University of Maryland Graduate School, remains a licensed pharmacist in New York, Maryland and Virginia.

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