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Industry gets reprieve for tamper-proof Rx

BY Jim Frederick

WASHINGTON —The acceptance by the Bush administration of a six-month delay in the rollout of new requirements for the way prescription drugs are written for Medicaid patients marks a clear and dramatic victory for retail pharmacy, and one that chain and independent pharmacy leaders can deservedly savor.

In what was almost literally a last-minute reprieve, President Bush signed into law at the end of September a bill that delays, for six months, a looming requirement that all Medicaid prescriptions be written on tamper-resistant prescription paper.

The provision to push back the start date of the new rule was part of a bill that extended other federal healthcare programs set to expire Oct. 1. Its inclusion in that bill followed an 11th-hour scramble by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the National Community Pharmacists Association and other pharmacy and professional groups to convince Congress that physicians, pharmacists and Medicaid administrators needed more time to adopt the new regulation.

The President’s signature came over the weekend, just prior to the Monday, Oct. 1, deadline Congress had originally imposed for implementation of the tamper-proof script pad rule by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“We cannot express our thanks to President Bush enough for helping low-income Americans continue to receive their prescription medications,” said NACDS president and chief executive officer Steve Anderson. “If the bill was not enacted by…Oct. 1, the nation’s community pharmacists would have had to choose between serving their patients and being reimbursed for the Medicaid prescriptions they fill.”

Anderson, along with NCPA executive vice president and chief executive officer Bruce Roberts and other professional and business leaders, had urged the White House to sign the bill quickly to avoid disruptions in service, asserting that it was impossible for physicians and pharmacists to obtain the needed tamper-proof pads or adapt their processes fast enough to meet the deadline.

Roberts said the delay would give both sides adequate lead time to make the use of tamper-resistant pads a reality.

“The use of tamper-resistant pads should reduce the amount of Medicaid fraud,” Roberts said. “More importantly, the six-month delay will minimize any disruptions to patients’ access to prescription drugs that would otherwise occur.”

The new rules were enacted as part of the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Care, Katrina Recovery and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act of 2007, which contained language directing the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to require the use of the new tamper-proof pads by Oct. 1. Apparently, little thought was given to the problems that could arise in adopting tamper-proof pads.

John Motley III, senior vice president of government and public affairs for the Food Marketing Institute, said the change to tamper-proof pads is “a very good, logical thing to do,” provided enough time is given to shift physicians and pharmacies to the new system.

Is six months enough time to make that transition? “We’ll see,” said Anderson in an exclusive interview Sept. 26. “It will be incumbent on all of us in the industry to make sure this gets done.

“A lot of it is a function of the marketplace, like providing the paper and other things that need to be done for it to be implemented,” he told Drug Store News. “There’s a lot of moving pieces in the healthcare industry and pharmacy industry [that have to be in place]…but it’s very important that we all work together to make sure we’re in a better position six months from now than we are today.”

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Fred’s reports both monthly and quarterly record sales

BY Allison Cerra

MEMPHIS, Tenn. Fred’s Inc. reported record sales for the five-week and eight-month periods which ended Oct. 6, 2007.

The company said Friday that its total sales for the month increased 2 percent to $161.4 million compared to the same period last year. Total sales for the year-to-date period increased 5 percent to $1.157 billion.

Same store sales for the month rose 1 percent on top of a 5 percent increase in September last year. On a comparable store basis, sales increased 1.3 percent through the first eight months of fiscal 2007 compared with a 2.7 percent gain in the year-earlier period. Same-store sales are a key predictor of how well the company performs in stores that have been open for several years, and how well the newly open stores will do in the future.

“September sales came in at the low end of our forecasted range of a 1 percent to 3 percent increase, affected by unusually warm weather across our markets and the disruption caused by the updating of 98 stores under our refresher program,” said Fred’s Stores chief executive officer Michael J. Hayes. “We look forward to finishing our refresher program in October with the last 60 stores and to a better economic environment for our customers going forward, as the benefits of the minimum wage increase and the focus of Federal Reserve Board on the credit crunch take hold.”

Fred’s opened four stores at the end of September, bringing total store openings to 22 for the year-to-date period. These new store openings have been balanced by the company’s decision to close underperforming stores. In the remaining months, Fred’s Stores said that it plans to open 14 additional stores, with no further planned closings, which will result in a net increase in stores of 2 percent for the year.

Fred’s Inc. operates 702 discount general merchandise stores, including 24 franchised stores in the southeastern United States.

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Target to open another 61 stores nationwide

BY Allison Cerra

MINNEAPOLIS Target announced that it will be opening an additional 61 Target stores, the company said Friday.

The stores, which will all open Oct. 14, will open in 22 different states. The majority of the stores are making their debut in Arizona, California, Ohio and Texas.

In addition to offering the latest in trend-right merchandise, Target also brings a 44-year tradition of community involvement. The retail chain commits itself to local communities donating more than $3 million each week to area nonprofit organizations, becoming involved in local volunteerism efforts through Target Volunteers, and orchestrating other special projects that help meet area social service, arts and education needs.

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