PHARMACY

Industry leaders hail new HHS chief, but make case for role in health reform

BY Jim Frederick

ALEXANDRIA, Va. Senate confirmation of Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to be the next secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services drew a positive but guarded reaction from the chain and independent pharmacy industries’ top advocacy groups.

Sebelius, a highly regarded state executive with experience in health policy issues, won Senate approval as the nation’s most powerful health care official on Tuesday, despite opposition from some Republicans over her pro-choice stance on abortion and her support for a larger government role in a reorganized U.S. healthcare system.

Responding to Sebelius’ confirmation, the leaders of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and the National Community Pharmacists Association issued statements hailing the Senate’s confirmation and congratulating the new HHS secretary. Their support, however, was mixed with a plea for Sebelius to heed pharmacy’s concerns as the Obama Administration moves ahead with its plan to overhaul the healthcare system.

“As the former governor of Kansas, we believe Secretary Sebelius is already sensitive to the health care needs of rural population centers where community pharmacies are often the sole healthcare providers in the area,” noted NCPA EVP and CEO Bruce Roberts. “We hope the Secretary addresses numerous federal policies that limit patient access to our services, whether they are onerous regulations or insufficient reimbursements. If these concerns are left unresolved patients will see their health jeopardized and the ensuing treatment costs can be far more expensive.”

In a jointly signed letter dated April 27, Roberts and Kansas Pharmacists Association executive director Michael Larkin asked Sebelius to meet with a delegation of independent pharmacists next month to discuss issues of concern to pharmacy owners. The letter, co-signed by more than 150 independent pharmacy owners in Kansas, outlined the threats posed by Medicaid reimbursement cuts, restrictions on the sale of durable medical equipment and other impediments, and pointed out that a meeting could be arranged in Washington to coincide with NCPA’s 41st Annual Conference on National Legislation and Government Affairs, slated for May 11 to 13.

NACDS president and CEO Steven Anderson also congratulated Sebelius. But he also took pains to point up the prominent role community pharmacists should play in a reorganized, more cost-effective and more patient-responsive and localized healthcare network.

“We look forward to working with Secretary Sebelius and her staff to comprehensively reform our nation’s healthcare system,” Anderson said. “As the face of neighborhood health care, pharmacy is enjoying a positive dialogue with President Obama’s administration and Congress to address healthcare affordability, accessibility and quality.

“Pharmacists are a wealth of knowledge, experience and expertise and can greatly assist the nation in the on-going debate,” Anderson added. “By counseling and educating their patients on the proper use and adherence to prescription drug medications, community pharmacists can improve patient care and quality, reduce healthcare costs and improve health outcomes.”

Sebelius, an early supporter of Obama’s bid for the presidency, filled a void as HHS cabinet nominee following the withdrawal of Tom Daschle from consideration following revelations of a delinquent tax payment problem early this year. As a two-term Democratic governor in a strongly Republican state, she won respect for her ability to reach across the aisle and form bipartisan consensus on key issues. She also has experience on health care issues: prior to her election as governor, she was Kansas’ health commissioner for eight years, and rallied support in a successful battle to prevent the sale of the state’s insurance program, operated by Blue Cross/ Blue Shield, to a private health insurer, arguing the sale would have led to higher premiums for state consumers.

Sebelius also won broad support last year for a campaign to reform state-funded health care programs by emphasizing personal responsibility for health and wellness, supporting preventive care initiatives and broadening health coverage to more of the uninsured.

One concern for community pharmacy and pharmaceutical company advocates, however, may be the governor’s pro-importation stance. According to her own website, Sebelius has pushed a program in Kansas that allows state residents to purchase drugs from some approved pharmacies in Canada and Europe.

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MinuteClinic becomes participating provider with health care insurer

BY Antoinette Alexander

MINNEAPOLIS CVS Caremark’s MinuteClinic business has become a participating provider with Highmark, the largest healthcare insurer in Pennsylvania based on membership.

Highmark, which is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, serves 4.8 million people through the company’s healthcare benefits business.

Through the partnership, members of Highmark’s health plans now have access to MinuteClinic locations in the Pittsburgh market.

“This is an important development in the growth of our business in western Pennsylvania as we expand access to care to millions of new customers,” stated Chip Phillips, MinuteClinic president. “By offering high quality treatment in a convenient setting, we can work with Highmark to help reduce healthcare insurance expenses for its members as well as time spent away from members’ families and the workplace.”

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Bristol-Myers Squibb reports positive financial performance

BY Alaric DeArment

NEW YORK In spite of the global economic downturn and a prediction from IMS Health global pharmaceutical sales growth will decline by as much as 3.5% this year, drug maker Bristol-Myers Squibb reported good financial performance and success in two strategic initiatives in its first quarter 2009 financial report Tuesday.

Net sales were $5.02 billion, a 3% increase over $4.9 billion in first quarter 2008, or 8% when excluding the affect of foreign exchange rates. Bristol also announced earlier this month that it would extend its development and commercialization deal with Otsuka Pharmaceutical for the bipolar disorder and schizophrenia drug Abilify (aripiprazole) from November 2012 to April 2015, and the two companies would collaborate on two cancer drugs, Sprycel (dasatinib) and Ixempra (ixabepilone).

The Food and Drug Administration’s Endocrinologic and Metabolic Drugs Advisory Committee determined by a vote of 10 to 2 that data submitted with the regulatory application that Bristol filed with AstraZeneca for the Type 2 diabetes drug Onglyza (saxagliptin) were sufficient to rule out unacceptable risks to cardiovascular health while unanimously recommending a post-marketing trial to confirm the data.

The HIV drug Reyataz (atazanavir sulfate) and the hepatitis B drug Baraclude (entecavir) demonstrated consistent growth, while sales of the cancer drug Erbitux (cetuximab) declined by 12% compared with first quarter 2008.

“Our operating performance was excellent at both the top and bottom lines,” Bristol chairman and CEO James Cornelius stated. “We made outstanding strategic progress, taking decisive actions that shift our focus toward future growth as a biopharma leader.”

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