PHARMACY

Court again blocks Medi-Cal cuts

BY Jim Frederick

LOS ANGELES In a crucial, if still temporary, victory for pharmacies in the Golden State, a federal district court here has again blocked a plan to cut Medicaid prescription reimbursements.

U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder issued a preliminary injunction to halt a five percent reduction in payments for prescription drugs and prescribed over-the-counter products dispensed or sold under California’s Medi-Cal program. Under California law, those cuts were scheduled to take effect March 1.

The Medi-Cal program has become one of the hottest and most closely watched pharmacy reimbursement battles in the nation. If the cuts to the state’s Medicaid program are eventually implemented, said former Longs Drug chairman, president and CEO Warren Bryant, “pharmacies can lose an average of $30 or more on every brand Medi-Cal prescription they filled.”

Pharmacy advocates in the state have thus far argued successfully against imposition of the reduced fees – despite California’s fiscal crisis and efforts to balance its budget – by asserting that the cuts would do irreparable damage to some pharmacies.

“This is yet another pivotal victory for pharmacy in California, following last year’s injunction against a ten percent reimbursement cut for pharmacies across the state,” said Steven Anderson, president and CEO of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. “The Court’s actions demonstrate the critical role that pharmacy plays in the lives of patients’ health in California.

“Maintaining pharmacy access is important not only to Medi-Cal beneficiaries’ health and safety, but also to the Medicaid program’s overall ability to constrain healthcare costs, including those related to preventable emergency room visits and catastrophic care,” he added.

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United Drugs and Associated Pharmacies merger to combine strengths

BY Drug Store News Team

Behind the decision by United Drugs and Associated Pharmacies to merge is one overriding theme: a national, integrated cooperative of more than 2,000 pharmacies all rowing in roughly the same direction is a force to be reckoned with.

In today’s economic maelstrom, it may also mean the difference between success and failure for many of the independent pharmacy operators operating under the combined United-Associated umbrella.

This economy — which is chewing up many smaller businesses, drying up demand for all manner of goods and services, and throwing hundreds of thousands of workers a week off corporate payrolls — leaves little room for error. And the financial meltdown makes operating an independent drug store — not an easy proposition in the best of times — a daunting prospect. Any combination of buying and marketing co-ops that can boost efficiencies and/or beef up the menu of services or purchasing clout of their members has to be a topic of serious consideration.

What’s more, merging the memberships of United and API creates one of the nation’s largest independent pharmacy networks, on a par with McKesson Corp.’s Health Mart franchise operation, Cardinal Health’s Leader umbrella program for independents and its Medicine Shoppe franchise pharmacy brand, or AmerisourceBergen’s Good Neighbor Pharmacy store-service and branding program. Only a handful of drug, supermarket or mass merchandise chains field as big a store network.

But many questions remain, even assuming the merger is approved. Among them: how will the combined programs squeeze new operating efficiencies and a stronger service program for their members out of their marriage? What additional steps need to be taken in this kind of unforgiving market to unite the 2,000 pharmacies under a stronger marketing, advertising and branding umbrella? Will there be a unified national advertising and pricing strategy? And, finally, will the members of both groups embrace the combination as a long-term benefit to their business?

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Carmel Pharma designates April National Safe Handling Awareness Month

BY Alaric DeArment

COLUMBUS, Ohio Carmel Pharma has designated April as National Safe Handling Awareness Month, and April 20 as National Safe Handling Awareness Day.

The company said the purpose of the month was to educate healthcare workers about safe handling of drugs and protect them from hazardous drug exposure. According to an alert published by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, exposure to hazardous drugs can lead to skin rashes, infertility, miscarriages, birth defects and possibly cancer.

Carmel Pharma will sponsor a free webcast April 20 from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EST, followed by a live “ask the experts” session. The webcast will be part of a month of regional and national continuing education activities.

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