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Getting D.C.’s attention

BY DSN STAFF

Drug Store News speaks with Brian Dowling, VP public affairs at Safeway.

Drug Store News: Are some of the solutions put forth by Safeway chairman and CEO Steve Burd and the Coalition for Health Care Reform finding traction in Washington?

Brian Dowling: Yes. The growth in membership since the coalition’s inception has been significant. And clearly in Washington there’s been growing awareness of the Safeway experience. What Steve is focused on when he’s in Washington is sharing what we’ve done, and showing that this has a broader application in healthcare reform. If there was a widespread adoption…by the healthcare system generally, I think there could be massive savings.

On the one hand, you’ve got President Obama talking about the Safeway experience. And you’ve got senators almost routinely talking about…the so-called “Safeway Amendment” to the Senate Finance Committee [health-reform] bill, [which] shows there’s clearly been collaboration with the leaders in the Senate.

What Steve talks to is that over the last four years, we’ve been able to “flatline” healthcare costs, not just for the company but for the employee as well. And at the same time improve the quality of service.

DrSN: Could the company’s health-and-wellness program for employees serve as a recruiting tool?

Dowling: Absolutely. If you [the employee], do these things right and you’re able to pass some fairly basic standards, you get pretty significantly discounted health care. And that’s absolutely a recruiting tool.

DrSN: How have customers taken to programs that emphasize healthy eating and prevention, like Food Flex?

Dowling: If you look at Food Flex and what we’re doing with Eating Right and O Organics, all of that flows from the much greater interest from our customers on health and wellness over the last several years. And that’s translating into the product mix in our stores in fairly significant ways.

DrSN: Safeway has been developing a smaller format. Where is that program at?

Dowling: We have one in Long Beach and one in San Jose, [Calif.] They’re…still very much in test phase. At this point, we’re simply calling it The Market. The stores are around 24,000 sq. ft.… We operate through a broad range of formats in different markets. We’ve got small stores in Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

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Walgreens taps veteran to head CCR

BY DSN STAFF

NEW YORK In a high-stakes campaign to fire up its front-end appeal, reaffirm its relationship with America’s consumers and rejuvenate its same-store sales, Walgreens has gone to its bench.

Walgreens has named one of its veteran operations people, Mike Arnoult, to the key post of VP in charge of Customer Centric Retailing. Until last month, the post was held by Chong Bang, who left the company in mid-December to oversee merchandising at Toronto-based Shoppers Drug Mart.

Unlike Bang, Arnoult is more a seasoned operations manager than a merchant. His appointment is a clear sign that Walgreens has moved beyond the conceptual and launch phase of CCR, and is ready to begin the next phase of the massive project: the expansion of a CCR-based store design across Walgreens’ coast-to-coast network of 7,147 drug stores.

Nevertheless, Arnoult inherits a critical challenge at the retail behemoth. CCR encompasses Walgreens’ massive effort to pull together a sprawling marketing and merchandising operation and focus its efforts more sharply on meeting and anticipating customer demands. Within two or three years, it will transform the chain’s front-end presentation and go-to-market strategy coast-to-coast with a leaner, more condensed merchandise mix; a sharper focus on health, wellness and patient education in the aisles; improved departmental adjacencies and signing; and — Walgreens merchants hope — a better overall shopping experience.

Bang took CCR all the way from conception to realization, streamlining assortments, cutting hundreds of redundant SKUs, and applying new rationale to categories, adjacencies and promotional strategy at the front end. He also oversaw the test and launch of a new Walgreens store prototype, based on CCR principles and a better read of consumer needs.

Arnoult will now take the CCR rollout from a 400-store pilot in Texas to nationwide completion. Given the chain’s aggressive plans for 2010 — nearly 3,000 stores scheduled for a CCR redesign by the end of the year — he’ll need to bring all his proven management skills to bear to coordinate local-market remodeling activities with Walgreens’ operations and merchandising teams.

“We’re evaluating the findings from the Texas stores and doing some tweaking,” company spokesperson Tiffani Washington told Drug Store News in December. “We’ll continue the rollout [of the CCR-based store overhaul program] starting in January.”

Arnoult brings to his task a strong resume in store, district and regional management. His 20-year career at Walgreens includes stints as store manager, district manager and store operations VP, followed by a year as head of online merchandising. He’s a 1990 graduate of Marquette University with a B.A. in communications.

“His ability to build relationships and collaborate across the organization will be invaluable,” Walgreens asserted.

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Bartell to cease filling Medicaid prescriptions at 15 locations

BY DSN STAFF

NEW YORK The Medicaid storm is still intense in Washington as Bartell Drugs has announced that — as of Feb. 1 — it will no longer fill Medicaid prescriptions at 15 of its 57 stores. Limiting access to pharmacies with its payment cuts could spell an increase in other healthcare costs — costs that represent the majority of health expenditures.

As stated in the article, the decision stems from a court decision in Massachusetts in September 2009 that reduced the industry pricing standard.

Bartell stated that — unlike most other insurance providers, including other states — the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services has made no effort to offset this significant reduction, resulting in sizeable reductions in payments to pharmacies.

The intent, according to Bartell, is to return to the established level of compensation prior to the Sept. 26, 2009, court action. As it currently stands, Bartell simply can’t afford to fill the Medicaid prescriptions.

While Bartell currently is the only pharmacy retailer to take such action, it certainly isn’t alone in the battle.

In March 2009, Walgreens threatened to stop serving Medicaid patients in 44 of its stores in the state. The company at that time stated that it operates 111 pharmacies throughout the state, but the 44 pharmacies in question represented more than 60% of its total Medicaid business in the state. However, in May 2009, Walgreens stated that it would continue to serve Medicaid patients when the state agreed to make smaller cuts than it had planned.

But will the court decision in Massachusetts now prompt other pharmacies to follow in Bartell’s footsteps? Perhaps, but if you ask Doug Porter, the state’s director of Medicaid, he will likely say no. In a recent Seattle Times article, Porter was quoted as saying that Medicaid recipients should not worry about other companies following suit and he is “convinced pharmacies can weather this change.” As reported by the Seattle Times, several pharmacies and industry trade groups filed suit in U.S. District Court in Seattle trying to force the state to return its reimbursement rates to those it was paying before the Massachusetts settlement. A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 15.

Last year, the pharmacy groups filed another lawsuit, after an earlier attempt by the state to cut its reimbursement rates. That suit was withdrawn when the state agreed to make smaller cuts than it had planned.

“We are deeply concerned about the health of our patients. Pharmacists are on the front lines of our healthcare system protecting patients by ensuring safe and appropriate medication use. Commercial healthcare payers and Medicaid programs in some states have already adjusted pharmacy reimbursement necessary to maintain patient access to the essential care provided by pharmacies. If Washington Medicaid does not do the same, it can result in reduced access to medicine for our neediest and most vulnerable patients ultimately leading to expensive emergency room visits and hospitalizations,” stated Jeff Rochon, Pharm.D., CEO, Washington State Pharmacy Association, in an NACDS press statement issued in September.

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