HEALTH

Johnson & Johnson/Life Scan partners with consumer advocate

BY Michael Johnsen

MILPITAS, Calif. To help people with diabetes get the most value for their healthcare dollar, Johnson & Johnson/LifeScan, maker of OneTouch branded blood glucose meters, has teamed with consumer advocate and syndicated columnist Jim Miller.

“People with diabetes are especially challenged [in today’s economy] because their healthcare costs are twice as high as those of people without diabetes,” stated Alan Cariski, VP worldwide medical safety and external affairs at LifeScan. “While it may be tempting to cut back on healthcare spending by skipping medications or reducing blood glucose testing, we’re working to remind people how important it is to follow the diabetes care regimen recommended by their healthcare professional to help safeguard their health.”

Miller and OneTouch offer the following tips, which include ways to reduce co-pays and find savings through employers and lifestyle modifications – all of which can help people with diabetes maintain their physical and financial health.

For people with health insurance, Miller recommends that consumers:

  • Talk to their pharmacist or insurance company to make sure they’re getting prescriptions and testing supplies at the lowest co-pay. If not, they should talk to their physician about switching prescriptions to the products with the lowest co-pays covered by their health plan. 
  • Buy prescriptions in quantity. For example, a three-month prescription may save money on dispensing fees, which can make it less expensive than buying it month to month. Take advantage of a flexible spending account, if offered by their employer. It reduces taxes by letting consumers pay for out-of-pocket medical expenses and over-the-counter products with pre-tax dollars.
  • Find out if their employer health plan offers any special programs for individuals with chronic conditions that may provide certain needed prescriptions and products for free. For instance, United Healthcare has recently launched a diabetes plan with incentives for prevention.

For people with inadequate or no insurance, Miller suggests consumers:

  • Search for one of the many free or low-cost programs, including individual pharmacy plans, that offer assistance with getting prescriptions or supplies for those who qualify. Good resources for researching these programs include: www.TogetherRxAccess.com; www.Access2wellness.com; www.pparx.org; www.rxassist.org; and www.needymeds.org.
  • Look into free or low-cost health clinics. Federally funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration, there are thousands of health centers around the U.S. that provide low-cost healthcare to people based on financial need.

For all people with diabetes, Miller recommends:

  • For those overweight — diet and exercise; for those who smoke — quit; for those who drink — do so only in moderation.
  • Plan healthy meals with free tools such as the American Diabetes Association’s MyFoodAdvisor (www.diabetes.org/myfoodadvisor) and LifeScan’s www.OneTouchGold.com.

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HEALTH

GNC reports 2008 financial results

BY Michael Johnsen

PITTSBURGH General Nutrition Centers on Thursday reported revenue of $1.7 billion for the year ended Dec. 31, an increase of 6.7%. Same-store sales improved 2.7% in domestic company-owned stores, the specialty retailer reported.

EBITDA totaled $212.2 million for 2008, up 69.1%.

Revenue across GNC’s manufacturing and wholesale increased 10.8% for the year to $179.4 million.

“The growth in this segment was the result of increased third party sales and additional license fee revenue for Rite Aid’s store-within-a-store openings,” said GNC CFO Michael Nuzzo.

Rite Aid continued to expand its GNC store-within-a-store concept, adding a net 30 stores this quarter, Nuzzo said, bringing the total number of GNC/Rite Aid locations to 1,712, up from 1,358 stores last year.

Rite Aid is planning to open another 200 GNC storefronts this year. “We’ve been in constant touch with them on things as we work through the year, and we’re trying to partner with them, to help them in any way we can,” Joseph Fortunato, GNC CEO, told analysts Thursday. “We’re in discussions on some things right now, and I’m not free to really disclose them. But I think they are fairly firm in that they’re going to try to hold their commitments with us,” he said, responding to an analyst’s question on whether or not Rite Aid had shut down its GNC expansion plans.

At year end, operated 2,774 company-owned stores in the United States and Canada and had 954 domestic franchise locations, in addition to 1,712 Rite-Aid locations and 1,190 international franchise locations for a total of 6,630 locations globally.

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FDA warns consumers about tainted weight-loss products

BY Michael Johnsen

ROCKVILLE, Md. The Food and Drug Administration on Friday expanded, for the second time, its nationwide alert to consumers about tainted weight loss products containing undeclared, active pharmaceutical ingredients.

“These tainted weight loss products pose a great risk to public health because they contain undeclared ingredients, and in some cases, contain prescription drugs in amounts that greatly exceed maximum recommended dosages,” stated Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Consumers have no way of knowing that these products contain dangerous drugs that could cause serious consequences to their health.”

As part of the new notification, the FDA has identified additional weight loss products (Herbal Xenicol, Slimbionic and Xsvelten) and new undeclared active pharmaceutical ingredients (fenproporex, fluoxetine, furosemide and cetilistat).

On Dec. 22, 2008, the FDA warned consumers not to purchase or consume 28 different products marketed for weight loss. On Jan. 8, 2009, the FDA expanded the list of tainted weight loss products to include 41 additional tainted products. The latest update brings the total number of products on the FDA’s warning list to 72.

The FDA cautioned that one of the 72 products on the list, JM Fat Reducer Slim Fast, should not be confused with Unilever’s Slim Fast line of meal replacement and related products.

For those products included on the list, the FDA has inspected many of the manufacturers associated with the sale of the illegal products and is currently seeking product recalls. Based on the FDA’s inspections and the companies’ inadequate responses to recall requests, the FDA may take additional enforcement steps, such as issuing warning letters or initiating seizures, injunctions or filing criminal charges.

The FDA advises consumers who have used any products containing these ingredients to stop taking them and consult their health care professional immediately. The FDA also encourages consumers to seek guidance from a health care professional before purchasing weight loss products.

The health risks posed by these products can be very serious and include high blood pressure, seizures, tachycardia (rapid heartbeat), palpitations, heart attack and stroke. Sibutramine, a controlled substance, was found in many of these products at levels much higher than the maximum daily dosage for Meridia, the only FDA-approved drug product containing sibutramine. These higher levels of sibutramine can increase the incidence and severity of these health risks.

Fenproporex, another controlled substance, can cause arrhythmia and possible sudden death.

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