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New Year’s resolutions in resolution

BY DSN STAFF

This year my New Year’s resolution is to stop all that last-minute rushing around all the time and quit bragging about how Drug Store News always has its finger on the pulse of the industry. I really don’t have the time for that any more—literally; it’s Friday at 2:57 EST, and this page needs to be at our printer in exactly one hour.

But I did want to take a moment to thank Santa Claus for FINALLY bringing me something from my Christmas list this year. Yes, (413 N. Lee Street, Old Town Alexandria) Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus.

In the Dec. 10, 2007, issue of Drug Store News, I wrote an open letter to Santa on behalf of the entire retail pharmacy industry. Well, I didn’t even have to wait until Christmas Day for him to bring me something from my list this year.

By Dec. 14, U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth had the good sense to grant an injunction that, at least temporarily, pulls the plug on the reduced AMP-based reimbursement formula for generic prescriptions that CMS had proposed until he has had an opportunity to fully review the new payment plan, and carefully consider community pharmacy’s lawsuit against CMS and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Thanks to Santa, Steve Anderson, Bruce Roberts, the entire retail pharmacy lobby and the communications teams behind them, Christmas came a little early this year for thousands of community drug stores across the country; as many as 12,000 were expected to shut down as a result of the new Medicaid reimbursement structure.

But I don’t have the time to talk about that kind of stuff, plus I promised not to do it anymore.

The Drug Store News Group made one other resolution for 2008: to keep raising the quality on both our print and online offerings. If you have been to www.drugstorenews.com lately, you may have noticed the introduction of our new video capabilities through DrugStoreNews.TV. We recently sent senior editor Antoinette Alexander out into the streets of Manhattan to talk to parents about how an FDA panel’s recent vote against OTC cough-cold products for children under age 6 might impact their purchasing decisions. It’s something we call Shopper Buzz; it’s also the kind of thing you can expect to see more of from Drug Store News in 2008. Just like Michael Johnsen’s story on the cover of this issue about what “green” means for retail pharmacy.

It’s also something you will only be able to find in Drug Store News. But I made a promise to stop doing that kind of stuff this year; besides, there’s no time for that. I have to write my column.

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S&P revises outlook on Rite Aid

BY Michael Johnsen

NEW YORK Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services revised its outlook on chain drug retailer Rite Aid to negative from stable, the firm reported Friday. At the same time, S&P affirmed the ‘B’ corporate credit rating on Rite Aid.

“The outlook change reflects the company’s weak same-store sales and our expectation that this trend will continue over the next few quarters,” stated Standard & Poor’s credit analyst Diane Shand. Rite Aid faces a more cautious consumer, strong growth of lower-priced generics and intense competition, she said. In addition, the current environment could make it more challenging for the company to integrate its recently-acquired Brooks/Eckerd stores.

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Boston Mayor decries in-store health clinics

BY Antoinette Alexander

BOSTON On the heels of the Massachusetts Public Health Council approving regulations allowing for in-store health clinics in the state, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino is reportedly looking to ban the clinics from opening in the city.

The decision by the health council “jeopardizes patient safety,” Menino said in a written statement, according to a Boston Globe report. “Limited service medical clinics run by merchants in for-profit corporations will seriously compromise quality of care and hygiene. Allowing retailers to make money off of sick people is wrong.”

The newspaper also reported that, in a separate letter, the mayor urged members of the city’s Public Health Commission to consider banning the clinics from opening within Boston. CVS has plans to open 20 to 30 MinuteClinics in the Greater Boston area but it is unclear how many of those would be within the city’s limits.

Defending its decision to allow clinics to operate, the state Public Health Council issued a statement that read: “The members of the Public Health Council were deliberative and thoughtful in their review of the limited service clinic regulation. We believe these types of clinics, operated either as part of a retail operation or in a nonprofit setting, can provide the public access to safe, convenient, and quality care for minor health issues.”

Officials at MinuteClinic were not immediately available for comment.

On Jan. 9, the state Public Health Council approved rules for limited service medical clinics. The new regulations took effect immediately.

“This is a new model for health care delivery that can benefit many people in the Commonwealth. These regulations will improve consumer convenience and make it easier for non-profit organizations to establish satellite clinics in a variety of settings to serve vulnerable populations,” stated secretary of Health and Human Services JudyAnn Bigby in a statement issued after the approval.

Added John Auerbach, commissioner of the Department of Public Health and chair of the PHC, “Properly regulated, these types of clinics will serve an important function, making care for minor medical care more convenient. The council was mindful of not wanting to create a stand-alone system of health care, so these regulations require coordination and linkages to primary care providers.”

The approval came at the end of a long review process that included two public hearings and the submission of hundreds of pages of testimony regarding the regulations, including testimony in favor of the clinics from the Convenient Care Association.

“We appreciate the Public Health Council’s careful deliberation regarding the adopted regulations that will now guide the operation of limited services clinics in Massachusetts. These retail-based clinics are providing consumers in 35 other states with easy access to high-quality, affordable health care in the face of a nationwide primary care physician shortage. Since this growing shortage is well documented in Massachusetts, and its related health care access issues have been exacerbated by the state’s near-universal healthcare coverage, we appreciate the Council embracing limited services clinics as a partial solution to these serious problems,” said Web Golinkin, president of the CCA and chief executive officer of in-store clinic operator RediClinic, in a statement issued after the council’s decision.

Sparking the move to create specialized regulations for these clinics was CVS’ application to open a MinuteClinic in one of its stores in Weymouth. According to the council, early in the application review process it became clear that DPH regulations governing medical clinics did not address the operation of medical clinics with limited scope of services. Rather than consider applications requiring numerous waivers from full-service clinic regulations, the department decided to create a specialized set of rules.

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