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Kerry, Gingrich champion electronic prescribing efforts

BY Jim Frederick

WASHINGTON —It’s been proven endlessly that politics can make strange bedfellows. The same, it appears, can be said for efforts at reforming health care.

That much was clear at a high-profile Capitol Hill press event March 4, when former political adversaries joined forces in a multifront campaign to spur the nationwide adoption of electronic prescribing and health information technology.

On hand at the event were Massachusetts senator and former Democratic presidential contender John Kerry and former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and Republican firebrand Newt Gingrich, who in recent years has staked his reputation on overhauling the U.S. healthcare system.

The two political leaders appeared at a press conference to announce the third annual Safe-Rx Awards presented by e-prescribing platform provider SureScripts and its two founding organizations, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and the National Community Pharmacists Association. The top award, which honors the state that has done the most over the past year to promote e-prescribing, went this year to Massachusetts.

The Bay State ranks first in the nation when it comes to transmitting prescriptions electronically, according to the results of a nationwide audit. Physicians in Massachusetts transmitted more than 4 million scripts electronically in 2007, or 13.4 percent of the state total, according to SureScripts president and chief executive officer Rick Ratliff, who hosted the event with Gingrich.

“I am thrilled to receive this award on behalf of my state and its care providers, and it is with their tireless work in mind that I will fight to pass the electronic prescribing legislation I have introduced in the Senate,” said Kerry, who accepted the award.

In December, Kerry and Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., led a bipartisan effort to introduce the Medicare Electronic Medication and Safety Protection Act in Congress. The so-called E-MEDS bill, if passed, would reimburse doctors for investing in e-prescribing technology, along with incentive payments each time a script is transmitted electronically and the claim is submitted through Medicare.

“We should all be encouraging our physicians to use this kind of practical technology to protect their patients,” Gingrich said.

The transition won’t be easy, Gingrich acknowledged. Unless there’s a hand-holder or a ‘coach,’ it’s dramatically harder for people to take general policy and translate it into personal behavior.”

Rounding out this year’s top e-prescribing states were Rhode Island, Nevada, Delaware, Michigan, Maryland, North Carolina, Arizona, Connecticut and Washington. Also honored was Health and Human Services secretary Michael Leavitt, who received the “Safe-Rx Evangelist Award” for his efforts to link e-prescribing to Medicare reimbursements. Leavitt also has proposed that Congress require doctors to use paperless prescribing to qualify for higher Medicare compensation rates.

The press conference also served to announce the launch of a new, Web-based program to help more physicians through the e-prescribing process. Five physician groups joined forces to launch www.GetRxConnected.com, which gives doctors a step-by-step process to move away from paper prescribing.

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MinuteClinic moves forward with Massachusetts plans

BY Antoinette Alexander

MINNEAPOLIS MinuteClinic, a clinic operator owned by CVS Caremark, has applied for its first 10 clinic sites in Massachusetts and expects the opening dates to be in late summer to early fall.

As previously reported by Drug Store News, in January, state health officials approved regulations allowing for limited service medical clinics, marking the end of a long review process that included two public hearings and the submission of hundreds of pages of testimony regarding the regulations.

MinuteClinic stated that it is working with the Massachusetts Department of Health and “is confident that the sites meet the regulatory requirements and will receive approval to move forward.”

The new in-store clinics are planned for CVS stores in Ashland, Beverly, Bridgewater, Danvers, Medford, Medway, Stoughton, Taunton, Tewkesbury and Westford.

The sites are the first of a total of 25 to 30 the company expects to open in Massachusetts by the end of 2008.

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Hallmark exits online flower and gift business

BY Doug Desjardins

KANSAS CITY, Mo. Hallmark is exiting the online gift and flower business, citing a less-than-acceptable return on investment. The move will result in the loss of about 100 jobs at its corporate headquarters and distribution center in Memphis, Tenn., though Hallmark said it would try to find new jobs in the company for those workers.

Hallmark started its online flower business in 2001 and its online and catalog gift and decor business in 2005. The decision will not affect its online business for greeting cards and stationery. A company spokeswoman said Hallmark decided to shutter the flower and gift divisions after determining they “couldn’t guarantee the results we needed.”

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