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CVS positions self as healthcare solution

BY Antoinette Alexander

WOONSOCKET, R.I. —CVS Caremark continues to expand its role as a pharmacy healthcare service company, and the results appear to be paying off, driving strong fourth-quarter results amid a shaky economy. Looking ahead, the company is confident that it is positioned for solid long-term growth and is telling a very powerful story about how it plans to leverage an immense prescription database and a robust network of retail-based clinics to help keep Americans healthy and drive down costs for patients, employers and payers.

“Following on the heels of the most successful selling season in our company’s industry, the sales force is looking to another good year.… We see significant new business opportunities in 2010,” Tom Ryan, chairman, president and CEO of CVS Caremark, told analysts during the fourth-quarter conference call on Feb. 19.

“With Proactive Pharmacy Care, we have the ability to provide clients and participants with beneficial services that no other competitor can. We are hearing from clients that, in these tough times, they are more open than ever to changes in plan design and other cost containment tools to save money and improve outcomes,” he said.

Launched in 2008, Proactive Pharmacy Care is focused on changing patient behavior to encourage medication adherence through clinical interventions throughout the treatment cycle. Examples of Proactive Pharmacy Care offerings include Maintenance Choice, which allows consumers to purchase chronic 90-day prescriptions at CVS stores for the same price as as mail. To date, Maintenance Choice has attracted more than 200 clients.

Collectively, with the clinics, the pharmacies, specialty and mail, the entire CVS Caremark offering can do much to fix American health care, Ryan believed, a system he says isn’t so much “broken” as it is “unproductive.” It is a message that Ryan has, in the past, shared with industry analysts. But with a new administration in the White House and healthcare costs escalating, Ryan now is taking greater steps to get that message in front of the American public, as evidenced by his recent interview with BusinessWeek magazine. “I don’t think our healthcare system is broken,” Ryan told BusinessWeek. “We are just spending too much, and it’s unproductive.”

Ryan said his goal is to help transform America’s healthcare system and to take advantage of President Barack Obama’s commitment to healthcare reform. With its vast prescription database and network of more than 500 MinuteClinics, Ryan believes CVS Caremark can help. Clearly, it is a compelling model based on performance on the managed care side of its business.

“Our PBM had an excellent client retention and achieved all-time record industry-leading sales and new business growth with 90 new clients and $8.2 billion in 12-month revenues. That’s $8.2 billion, so for anyone wondering if our offerings are resonating, they certainly are,” Ryan said.

In unrelated news, the company announced that Dave Rickard will be retiring at the end of the year. He has served as CFO since 1999. Rickard originally had planned on retiring in late 2010, but decided to move that up to achieve some personal goals.

There is no doubt that MinuteClinic is a very important component of the company’s aggressive approach to healthcare reform. Given this, instead of focusing on new clinic openings in 2009, CVS Caremark will put much of its efforts into driving consumer awareness.

“The first thing we are doing is focusing on leveraging our CVS retail advertising spend to drive clinic awareness. Second, we are expanding our service offerings to extend relevance,” Ryan said. “We are forming strategic partnerships that offer health-and-wellness services, chronic disease screening and monitoring, and incentives that divert members from using the emergency room to using MinuteClinic for common ailments. Third, we are growing our in-network covered lives.”

During the fourth quarter alone, the company added 6 million lives to its network, and approximately 80% of MinuteClinic visits were third-party paid during the quarter. In addition, the number of acute care visits was up 50% during the quarter compared with the third quarter.

Despite current economic turmoil, CVS Caremark also experienced solid results within its retail business, with revenues rising 18.8% to $13.8 billion in the fourth quarter. The acquired Longs Drug Stores business added more than $1 billion to the quarter’s growth.

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Obama may overturn Bush’s ‘conscience’ rules

BY Alaric DeArment

NEW YORK The Obama Administration may overturn the Bush Administration’s “conscience” rules that allow healthcare workers to invoke religious beliefs to deny certain services such as birth control, according to published reports.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Barack Obama may roll back the provisions, which allow pharmacists to refuse to prescribe birth control pills on account of personal religious beliefs. 

Seven states have also filed lawsuits to challenge the rule, the newspaper reported.

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Clear up patient medication guidelines, independent pharmacy group urges FDA

BY Jim Frederick

ALEXANDRIA, Va. The National Community Pharmacists Association wants the government to give patients a clearer, more concise set of guidelines on how to take their medications, the effects those drugs have and the risks and benefits they carry.

The independent pharmacy organization yesterday urged the Food and Drug Administration’s Risk Communication Advisory Committee to push for a change in the current system of overlapping instructions that go to patients along with their prescriptions. In testimony before the committee, NCPA asked the agency to develop criteria for a guidance that would describe “a single, patient-friendly, written prescription information sheet to eventually replace the multiple written documents that patients can currently receive from their pharmacists with a particular prescription.

Under current practices, those documents can include  Medication Guides, Patient Package Inserts [PPIs] and Consumer Medication Information [CMI]. Too often, said NCPA’s director of public policy, Tony Lee, patients discard the CMI and never read it — sometimes even throwing it away before they leave the pharmacy.

“While we recognize that the FDA has worked hard to try and improve these medication documents, the problem needs to be addressed in a fundamentally different way that combines useful written information with the personal relationships between the pharmacists and patients,” Lee told the FDA advisory panel.

“It is time for a comprehensive solution to this written prescription information issue,” added John Coster, NCPA’s senior VP of government affairs. “Any FDA effort to make CMI more useful for the patient should be accompanied by a broader assessment of the usefulness and purpose of the other information leaflets that pharmacist may be required to provide. We look forward to working with the agency and patient groups to meet this goal.”

Last summer, NCPA joined other pharmacy provider groups to file a “One Document” citizens’ petition with the FDA. The Risk Advisory Committee was convened specifically to address how to make CMI leaflets more useful for the patient, the group noted.

“These leaflets are voluntarily provided by the pharmacist, but the information contained in these leaflets often duplicates information in other written leaflets,” NCPA stated.

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