Kroger, Safeway strike back against Walmart/Humana Part D drug plan
MINNETONKA, Minn. — Could the economy and the bare-knuckles competition that now defines pharmacy retailing lower the price bar even further for widely used generic drugs? It’s already happening.
Walmart upended the low-price end of the pharmaceutical market four years ago when it launched a widely imitated, much-publicized blanket price point of $4 for many of its generic prescription drugs. Over time, $4 has become the de facto price standard for multisource generics at many outlets. But two major developments in recent weeks threaten to upend the uneasy status quo that has existed in prescription discounting over the past two or three years.
Ironically enough, Walmart itself is the source of the new upheavel. In late September, the company announced a new, steeply discounted prescription drug plan to serve seniors enrolled in Medicare Part D. The plan, launched in partnership with insurance provider Humana and marketed as the Humana Walmart-Preferred Rx Plan, will offer enrollees monthly premiums below $15 and co-payments as low as $2 on some generic prescriptions.
First to fire back directly are two of the nation’s biggest supermarket chains. In late November, Kroger and Safeway announced the launch of a new, low-price prescription plan for Medicare Part D beneficiaries, in partnership with UnitedHealth Group.
Called Pharmacy Saver, the new program is a collaboration among Kroger, Safeway and United’s Prescription Solutions affiliate. It will allow members to purchase some scripts for $2 for 30- and some 90-day supplies. It applies to hundreds of prescription drugs, including 8-of-the-10 generics most commonly used by UnitedHealthcare Medicare plan members.
For Kroger and Safeway, the program, available to Part D recipients in January, marks a direct counterpunch to Walmart’s low-price strategy. On a larger scale, the $2 co-pay could further shift the definition of a low-priced generic in the broader market. It remains to be seen whether the launch of Humana Walmart-Preferred Rx and Pharmacy Saver will trigger more moves among pharmacy chains.
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$2 solution: WMT, Humana play low-price card
BENTONVILLE, Ark. — It’s the kind of low-price power play that gives smaller-scale independent pharmacy owners — and chain drug store operators too, for that matter — the willies. In what promises to be another potent and potentially market-altering exercise in massive scale and competitive clout, Walmart has linked up with insurance heavyweight Humana to launch what it says will be the lowest-cost prescription drug plan for seniors who rely on Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage.
Both companies now are enrolling Medicare beneficiaries in the Humana Walmart-Preferred Rx Plan, which was announced Sept. 30. The plan will begin covering patients around the country as a government-approved Medicare prescription drug plan in January 2011, offering monthly premiums at the rock-bottom rate of $14.80.
That’s less than half the average national monthly premium set by prescription drug plans serving Part D, Walmart and Humana officials asserted, and is the lowest national plan premium in 2011 for a stand-alone Medicare Part D plan premium offered in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Compounding the low-price appeal: a promise from Walmart that plan members who have their scripts filled at a Walmart, Neighborhood Market or Sam’s Club pharmacy could see co-payments as low as $2 on some generic prescriptions.
Therein lies the rub for Walmart’s competitors, of course. The plan gives preferred status to Walmart’s own 4,000-plus pharmacies.
“This new co-branded prescription drug plan,” the two firms asserted in a joint statement, “can save a typical Medicare Part D beneficiary who enrolls in the Humana Walmart-Preferred Rx Plan an estimated average of more than $450 in 2011 on plan premiums and prescription medication co-payments and cost-shares, when compared with the average total costs for a Part D prescription drug plan in 2010.”
If successful, Humana Walmart-Preferred Rx will roil the Medicare market for medicines by blending the drawing power and geographic penetration of the nation’s fourth-largest pharmacy retailer with the massive enrollment muscle of one of America’s leading insurers.
Like Walmart’s much-copied $4 generic drug promotion did when it rampaged through the U.S. pharmacy market in late 2006 and early 2007, the new offering is generating plenty of attention from the press and from consumers. And John Agwunobi, president of Walmart’s health-and-wellness division, made no secret of the company’s long-term vision for its alliance with Humana. He acknowledged that the rollout of Humana Walmart-Preferred Rx “is intended to grow our business.”
The launch also extends an alliance between Walmart and Humana that dates back to the inception of Medicare Part D in early 2006, when the two firms partnered in an educational campaign for seniors. When the new drug coverage program got under way, informational kiosks staffed by Humana employees became a familiar sight at Walmart stores, alerting Medicare beneficiaries of their options under Part D and of the pharmacy services available through a co-branded Walmart-Humana prescription insurance card.
The new plan’s appeal to nervous seniors on fixed incomes is undeniably real — particularly in the wake of the nation’s most grueling economic tailspin in seven decades. And for Walmart — which proved adept at scrambling the prescription drug market when it launched $4 generics four years ago — the timing could hardly be better, as Americans continue to grapple with joblessness, steadily rising healthcare premiums and worries about the future.
Well, with regular developing of the pharmacy market new services appears, so drug store operators and independent pharmacy owners try to make new changes into the market to make their business more profitable and available for consumers.To my mind,medical industry is one of the most expensive, medicines cost enough money ad sometimes people are forced to borrow money to buy the medicines they need, so considering this fact providing low prices can be really postive for consumers and make purchasng medicines more affordable for them. http://cashadvancesus.com/
Site helps open networking for pharm students, schools
NEW YORK — The power of a professionally driven social networking and information platform is now within reach of pharmacists and pharmacy students. And students are taking a lead role in its development and growth.
The new network is called Pharmacist Society. It was conceived and developed as a Web-based networking, information and practice tool by pharmacist Ted Search, president of Skipta — a provider of networking technology for health professionals — and by pharmacy students and educators.
Thanks to a new partnership between Skipta and The Drug Store News Group, Pharmacist Society now is available to professionals and students via PharmacistSociety.com.
Pharmacy students have been key to the development and expansion of the concept. Search reached out to students two years ago, and, given his ties to the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy, enlisted Pitt as the incubation site for the network.
It has been a fruitful collaboration. Pharmacy students at Pitt and other schools have taken leadership roles in bringing the Pharmacist Society concept to life, encouraging its adoption and spreading awareness about its value to other schools and pharmacy groups.
“Students now in pharmacy school started college with Facebook, so it’s second nature for them to use these programs,” said Brian Straub, national student president for the new networking site and a fifth-year student at Pitt’s school of pharmacy. Straub said the site isn’t intended to supplant such social networking sites as Facebook and LinkedIn. “It has a lot of that same powerful technology to communicate, but it’s on a very professional level, with tools tailored to pharmacy students and professionals,” he said.
“Most importantly as a student, we now have a central site,” Straub added. “So we’re using a portion of Pharmacist Society as our own secure student portal at Pitt, and within that, student organizations have their own dedicated sites with their own specific resources. This is the next step to a mobile world, and having that all being moved into Drug Store News is fantastic, because you have that connection to a provider of national pharmacy news and CE credits. So when you make that transition to the professional world, you’re not jumping out of the system you were using in school, you’re just transitioning with a great resource.”
Amanda Johnson, another student leader at Pitt, called Pharmacist Society “a great way to learn more about the profession and to network with those who have been through [school]. Right now we’re in a transition at our school from using an alternate student portal to using Pharmacist Society as our common place to go for the calendar, and for networking with alums and other professionals,” Johnson said.
Another early proponent was Megan Reilly, Pharmacist Society’s national student director of public relations. Reilly and other Pitt students enthusiastically provided Search “with ideas for things we wanted access to,” she said. “For example, we requested that pharmacy groups be on this site. We also wanted blog entries, access to scholarship opportunities and residency and job information.”
Early on, Reilly and other student leaders promoted the site within the Pitt community and beyond. “We even introduced the site overseas last summer at a pharmacy conference in Portugal,” she added.
With graduation looming, Reilly added, “I’m using Pharmacist Society to learn about careers … and contacting people that I might not have had access to previously. I know it’s a safe and professional environment, so I feel comfortable reaching out to these people. In the future, I’d like to be able to use Pharmacist Society as my own professional portfolio.”
Also excited about Pharmacist Society’s potential is its national student director of operations, David Zimmerman, a fifth-year pharmacy student at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. Zimmerman is helping spread the word about the new resource, both among faculty and students at USP, and within other pharmacy schools and professional organizations, such as the American Pharmacists Association and National Community Pharmacists Association. “It’s going to help students network for their future career, but also connect … student chapters at different pharmacy organizations like NCPA and APhA,” he said.
Pharmacy educators also are embracing the concept. “One of the appealing characteristics of Pharmacist Society … was that you had an opportunity to connect the students and the faculty in a social networking environment that is professionally oriented,” observed Michael Manolakis, assistant dean for planning and associate professor at Wingate University School of Pharmacy in North Carolina.
Manolakis also liked the fact that faculty advisers at Wingate and other schools maintain some “administrative control” over the content posted on the school’s own Pharmacist Society pages, which are privacy protected.
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