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Independents’ lobby urges changes to health-reform bill passed in House

BY Jim Frederick

ALEXANDRIA, Va. The independent pharmacy lobby gave guarded support to the massive health-reform bill passed late Saturday by the U.S. House of Representatives, but expressed several reservations about the impact the legislation could have on community pharmacy if signed into law.

In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the National Community Pharmacists Association praised lawmakers for removing “some of the barriers” to pharmacy services in the Affordable Health Care for America Act, or H.R. 3692. However, noted NCPA EVP and CEO Bruce Roberts, “it doesn’t go far enough, such as with Medicaid generic drug reimbursements.”

In other instances, further clarification is needed, Roberts told the speaker. For instance, he wrote, “The proposed language authorizing the HHS Secretary to negotiate prices for Medicare Part D drugs is intended for drug makers, but could apply to pharmacists if left unchanged.”

NCPA did endorse much of the legislation, including language that would refine the method used to calculate the average manufacturers’ price of generic drugs under a new Medicaid pharmacy reimbursement system. “H.R. 3692 would exclude from the definition of AMP those prices paid for pharmaceuticals by nonretail pharmacy purchasers, such as mail-order pharmacies and PBM rebates,” Roberts noted in his letter. “Because AMP will be used as a benchmark for pharmacy reimbursement in Medicaid and possibly other plans, these exclusions are critical. The AMP definition,” he added, “should as closely as possible reflect the prices paid only by retail pharmacies.”

However, Roberts in effect told Pelosi, the current definition doesn’t go far enough to protect community pharmacies. “We would ask that the definition of AMP be modified such that prices paid by hospitals, physician offices and clinics only be included in the … calculation of inhalation, infusion and injection drugs. These prices should not be used to calculate an AMP for any other drugs in the retail class of trade.”

NCPA also supports the bill’s shifting of AMP to the “weighted average” price of generics under the Medicaid payment program, rather than reimbursing based on the lowest market price obtained. “Reimbursement at 130% of the weighted AMP will likely reimburse pharmacists more for generic medications than would have been the case under the DRA’s method,” Roberts noted. However, he added, that formula falls far below the 300% multiplier envisioned in previous legislation that failed to gain passage in the last Congress, the Fair Medicaid Drug Payment Act of 2007.

“We remain concerned that reimbursement for generics at no more than 130% of the weighted average AMP, combined with the low dispensing fees paid by states, could negatively impact generic dispensing and reduce Medicaid patients’ access to many community pharmacies,” Roberts said. 

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FDA approves rare skin cancer treatment

BY Alaric DeArment

ROCKVILLE, Md. The Food and Drug Administration has approved a new drug for treating a skin cancer that affects fewer than 20,000 people in the United States.

Gloucester Pharmaceuticals announced the FDA’s approval of Istodax (romidepsin) for the treatment of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma also known as CTCL, in patients who have received at least one prior systemic therapy. The cancer affects between 16,000 and 20,000 people in the United States and is most common among men ages 50 years and older, according to the Cutaneous Lymphoma Foundation.

“CTCL is a devastating cancer in which many patients suffer from disfiguring tumors, horribly itchy and infected skin and, in advanced stages, lesions in other organs,” Stanford Cancer Center professor and Istodax clinical trial investigator Youn Kim stated. “Current systemic therapies have proved inadequate, and patients with CTCL desperately need treatment options that can offer sustained relief from their disease so they can live fuller lives.”

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Price Chopper opens new Mass.-based store

BY Alaric DeArment

SCHENECTADY, N.Y. Northeastern supermarket chain Price Chopper has opened a new store in Shrewsbury, Mass., the company said.

The 64,000-sq.-ft. store incorporates numerous environmentally friendly features and was designed to win silver-level certification in the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. Features include skylights, freezers and cases lit with LED lightbulbs and a composting system for unused, produce, meat, seafood and deli products.

“We are so pleased to offer a brand new, state-of-the-art supermarket here in Shrewsbury that contains many of our signature products and services,” Price Chopper CEO and chairman Neil Golub said. “We look forward to providing Price Chopper quality, value and customer service to all those who enter our doors and relish the opportunity to continue supporting local projects and events that nourish the community around us.”

The store also includes a full-service pharmacy offering the chain’s 30-day and 90-day generic discount programs and the Diabetes AdvantEdge disease management program.

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