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A First Look at Friends of Pharmacy

BY Michael Johnsen

ALEXANDRIA, Va .—It’s been said over and over again. Community pharmacy must raise its voice in the chambers of Capitol Hill to communicate its crucial role in the delivery of America’s health care.

And now it seems that several men and women in Congress have agreed to lend a dedicated ear. The bipartisan Congressional Community Pharmacy Coalition, launched in late September, is made up of 34 representatives who have promised to champion community pharmacy as the nation’s legislators debate the future of health care in America—something voters have identified as the leading domestic issue in the 2008 presidential election, according to the Henry J. Kraiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit foundation that focuses on major healthcare issues facing the United States.

Two of those representatives are profiled here, in Drug Store News’ inaugural special section, appropriately titled Friends of Pharmacy, that will periodically identify legislators who realize the value of the pharmacist in today’s healthcare environment and extol that value in their debates on the floor of Congress.

Rep. Marion Berry, D-Ark.

Founding co-chair of the Congressional Community Pharmacy Coalition.

Supports prompt payment of pharmacists with regard to Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit claims. To that end, he sponsored The Fair and Speedy Treatment of Medicare Prescription Drug Claims Act of 2007 (H.R. 1474) in March. Bill currently is before the Subcommittee on Health.

Co-sponsored legislation to delay the implementation of tamper-resistant prescription pads.

About Berry: Rep. Marion Berry, D-Ark., has represented the people of Arkansas’ First Congressional District since 1997. Berry, 65, grew up in the Bayou Meto community near DeWitt. He received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Arkansas College of Pharmacy in 1965. He served as a pharmacist in North Little Rock at Argenta Drug Co. and, later, at Don’s Pharmacy from 1965 through 1967.

On pharmacy: “In some cases, pharmacists are the only medical professional people visit because they are unable to afford a doctor’s visit, travel to an office or lack health insurance. Pharmacists are vital to their local communities. But because of recent changes and problems in Medicaid and Medicare Part D plans, family-owned pharmacies are at risk of closing, leaving their local community without front-line medical professionals.” (March 28, 2007)

On prompt pay: “Many times pharmacists are the first medical experts patients go to in their local communities. [The Fair and Speedy Treatment of Medicare Prescription Drug Claims Act of 2007, introduced in March] will help family-owned pharmacies, who are in danger of losing their business due to slow reimbursement and unclear processing claims, get the money they are owed. … This bill is a simple reform that will make sure pharmacists are treated fairly and not financially held hostage by insurance companies.” (March 13, 2007)

On tamper-proof prescription pads:

“The tamper-proof law is a well-intended fraud-prevention initiative, but it neglected to give states an adequate amount of time to inform patients and providers about the regulations. … Hasty implementation had the potential to deny patients access to needed prescription medicines. This would be an even greater problem for Medicaid beneficiaries … in rural areas, who have less access to pharmacists and medical professionals.” (Sept. 26, 2007)

Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark.

One of the founding members of the Congressional Community Pharmacy Coalition and co-owner of an independent pharmacy.

Along with Berry, co-sponsored legislation to delay the implementation of tamper-resistant prescription pads. Patient and Pharmacists Protection Act of 2007 (H.R. 3090) was introduced July 18 and, on that day, was submitted before the House subcommittee on Health.

Also co-sponsored the Community Pharmacy Fairness Act of 2007 (H.R. 971), a measure to make the antitrust laws apply to negotiations between groups of independent pharmacies and health plans and health insurance issuers, including health plans under parts C and D of the Medicare Program, in the same manner as such laws apply to protected activities under the National Labor Relations Act. Bill currently is before the House Committee on Judiciary.

About Ross: Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., 46, was first elected to Congress in 2000 and currently is serving his fourth term. Ross has co-owned Holly’s Health Mart and Home Medical Equipment in Prescott, Ark., a pharmacy, durable medical equipment supplier and gift shop, with his wife Holly since 1993.

On pharmacy: “I think my experience as the owner of a family pharmacy helps me to understand the challenges faced by a pharmacy and most other small businesses in our country. … I reflect on my experiences as a small business owner when casting votes in the House.” (2006)

On tamper-proof prescription pads: “We have to find a reasonable approach to helping, not hindering, our healthcare providers deliver quality health care.… I am proud to … introduce this important legislation [Patient and Pharmacists Protection Act of 2007] to ensure that our healthcare providers continue to have the ability to provide patients with a safe, efficient means of receiving their prescriptions while easing undue burdens on our local pharmacists and physicians.” (July 18, 2007)

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Big crowds greet Tesco debut in Los Angeles

BY Doug Desjardins

LOS ANGELES Tesco wanted to make a good impression with its Nov. 8 Fresh & Easy debut in Los Angeles—a city where image is everything—and it did just that with a huge crowd jamming the aisles on opening day. Company officials reported similar turnouts at five other grand openings in Southern California and acknowledged customer response exceeded expectations.

More than one hundred people stood in line waiting to get into the Los Angeles store, with employees letting customers in as others left. And what they saw inside was a Tesco’s new hybrid combining elements of Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and 7-Eleven with some borrowings from its stores in Europe.

The basic concept of Fresh & Easy is a convenient shopping experience with an emphasis on healthy food and prepared meals from its Fresh & Easy private label. During a brief tour of the crowded store, Uwins explained that 50 percent of its food offerings are from its private label and that everything is created, cooked and packaged at its own state-of-the art “kitchen” in Southern California, including all of its prepared meals.

“We expected pre-prepared meals to be a massive hit here in the U.S.,” said Simon Uwins, Tesco’s chief marketing officer. “And so far, judging from the gaps we see in our refrigerated cases, they’re being cleared out rather fast.”

Several things set Fresh & Easy apart from other grocery retailers like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, the two it resembles the most. As Uwins mentioned, its Fresh & Easy private label has a 50 percent penetration rate and is represented in nearly every major food category including produce, meat, prepared meals, juice, coffee and mixed nuts.

And that reliance on private label allows it to offer some very competitive prices. Overall, Tesco says its prices are well below its main rivals at standard supermarkets. “We estimate our prices are about 20 percent lower than most supermarkets in the area,” said Uwins.

Its selection general merchandise, health and beauty and over-the-counter medications is small supermarket standards and runs more along the lines of a convenience store, though with a broader assortment. Basics like paper towels, diapers and pet food are stocked in a single aisle and its HBC and OTC products are located on one long shelf toward the back of the store capped with a section for greeting cards and magazines.

The rather small selection—and the complete lack of private label products—shows Fresh & Easy is primarily about the food, though that could change. “There are no private label products outside of food right now but that’s not to say that won’t change,” said Uwins.

The in-store signage is also unique and stamps Fresh & Easy as an organic and eco-friendly retailer, a good image for Southern California. Nearly every green, cardboard endcap features a message about its products including “all our bagged coffee is certified organic” and “our desserts contain 0 percent trans fats.” LED lighting is also used in the store, something else pointed out in its signs. The store doesn’t sell cigarettes but do carry a large selection of wine along with liquor and beer.

The checkout system is completely automated with 100 percent assisted self-checkout. Five checkout stands are small and designed for 15 items or less and the rest are a bit larger with scanners and self-pay systems (though there were plenty of employees nearby to help out people not familiar with the concept).

As expected, Tesco had some detractors at its grand openings in the form of labor unions and neighborhood groups. The Carpenters Local 1506 picketed in front of the Los Angeles store and handed out fliers claiming that a group hired by Tesco to help build its stores “does not meet area labor standards, including paying for health care and pension for all its employees on all projects.”

Tesco has a second wave of five openings planned for Las Vegas on Nov. 14 and plans to have stores open in the San Diego market in late November and Phoenix in early December. It expects to have 50 stores operating in California, Nevada and Arizona by next February.

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Costco announces October sales figures

BY Doug Desjardins

ISSAQUAH, Wash. Costco reported a big 9 percent jump in same store sales in October.

Leading the way was a 17 percent increase in sales at its international stores with U.S. sales jumping 7 percent. The increase beat the 5.7 percent average predicted by analysts for the month.

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