PHARMACY

Independent pharmacy group assails CVS Caremark merger

BY Jim Frederick

ALEXANDRIA, Va. Stung by what they assert are unfair competitive practices enjoyed by rival CVS Caremark, more than 80 independent pharmacy owners and several of their patients urged Federal Trade Commission officials Wednesday to re-examine the 2007 merger of chain drug store powerhouse CVS and pharmacy benefit management giant Caremark.

The National Community Pharmacists Association organized the meeting with the FTC and its chairman, Jon Leibowitz. At the hearing, NCPA and its members urged the agency to reopen the merger by investigating allegations of “anticompetitive and deceptive conduct by CVS Caremark.” The independent pharmacy advocates also asked the FTC to require the pharmacy and PBM giant “to treat all pharmacies in a nondiscriminatory fashion,” with “an ironclad barrier between CVS and Caremark so that competitively sensitive Caremark information cannot be used by its retail operations.”

NCPA president Holly Whitcomb Henry, a pharmacy owner in Seattle, told FTC representatives that the combination of the two big companies created “a virtual monopoly” that affects 134 million consumers and fills or manages 1.2 billion prescriptions annually, controlling or influencing the prescription benefit of an estimated 1 out of 3 Americans.

“Community pharmacists have received many complaints from patients and pharmacists about CVS Caremark’s higher prices and questionable marketing practices,” Henry charged. “Despite CVS/Caremark’s pre-merger promise to be ‘agnostic as to where the consumer fills their prescription, the company’s mail-order and in-store sales and marketing teams tap into personal patient information and then aggressively use that information to steer them to CVS stores or Caremark mail order.”

Henry called the business model “anti-competitive and, ultimately, anti-consumer.”

“In the interests of consumers and fair competition, this merger deserves a fresh look,” Henry added.

In a conference call with reporters after the meeting, Henry said she is “cautiously optimistic” that the FTC may revisit the merger, particularly with a new administration in the White House that may prove less friendly to the creation of huge, vertically integrated companies.

Officials at CVS Caremark, for their part, take strong issue with NCPA’s allegations. “We disagree with NCPA’s mischaracterization of our business practices,” said CVS spokesperson Carolyn Castel. “The merger of CVS and Caremark is, in fact, making pharmacy health care more accessible, more effective and more affordable.”

Indeed, Castel added, “Our integrated pharmacy and PBM operations provide greater choice and more convenience for patients, improve health outcomes, and lower overall health care costs for plan sponsors and participants.”

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NACDS, NCPA praise Senate’s inclusion of Medicaid reimbursement relief in healthcare reform proposal

BY Alaric DeArment

ALEXANDRIA, Va. Two organizations have praised the Senate Finance Committee’s inclusion of Medicaid reimbursement relief in its healthcare reform proposals.

The National Association of Chain Drug Stores and the National Community Pharmacists Association hailed the inclusion of the policy by committee chairman Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

“While this process is only beginning, and legislation is being crafted, we are pleased that chairman Baucus, senator Grassley and Finance Committee members have recognized the implications on patient access that threaten the ability of pharmacies to provide healthcare services to the neediest populations, especially those in rural and inner-city areas with higher percentages of Medicaid patients,” NACDS president and CEO Steven Anderson and NCPA executive VP and CEO Bruce Roberts said in a joint statement.

The proposal would increase the percentage of the federal upper limits from 250% to 300% of the weighted average of the most recent average manufacturer prices for pharmaceutically and therapeutically equivalent multiple-source drugs available nationally through commercial pharmacies.

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Pfizer develops free medication program for unemployed Americans

BY Alaric DeArment

NEW YORK Amid an economic environment of increasing unemployment, a large drug maker has started a program to offer medicines to unemployed Americans for free.

Pfizer announced the MAINTAIN plan to help eligible unemployed Americans and their families who have lost their health insurance continue receiving Pfizer medicines for free.

“We all know people who have been laid off recently and have lost their health insurance, making it difficult for them to pay for health care,” Pfizer regional president worldwide pharmaceuticals Jorge Puente stated. “We thought there must be some way we could help recently unemployed people who are taking Pfizer medicines to continue treatment during these challenging economic times.”

The program, whose name stands for Medicines Assistance for Those who Are In Need, will be open for enrollment through Dec. 31 for Americans who have become unemployed since Jan. 1, regardless of prior family income.

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