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NRF to Federal Reserve: Swipe card fee cap doesn’t go far enough

BY Allison Cerra

WASHINGTON — The National Retail Federation last week responded to the Federal Reserve’s proposal to cap debit card swipe fees at 12 cents per transaction.

The retail trade association said that banks should honor debit transactions at or close to face value, similarly to the way checks are handled. Debit swipe fees currently are 1% to 2% of each transaction, NRF said, totaling about $20 billion a year; card company practices compel merchants to pass these fees along to customers through higher prices. The Federal Reserve estimated that its proposed cap would save merchants and their customers about 70%, or about $1.2 billion a month.

The NRF said the proposal’s “only shortcoming is its failure to carry the principles through to the extent necessary to achieve true market correction in a realm long lacking transparency and competition. History has shown that by adopting at-par presentment for checks, Congress and the board got it right,” NRF said in comments filed with the Federal Reserve Board of Governors on Tuesday. “A century later, Congress has provided the board with the opportunity to get it right again by renewing the principles embedded in the board’s at-par checking rules. When every party bears its own costs, the free market will force all parties to strive to minimize their costs, and every party will have the potential to win.”

The Federal Reserve currently is reviewing comments on the proposed rules, with an April deadline to approve a final version so the reforms can take effect in July.

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Flu activity to drive pharmacy comps

BY Allison Cerra

NEW YORK — The flu may drive consumers to bed, but drug store sales are expected to benefit from an increase in flu activity, according to a Credit Suisse research note.

Credit Suisse research analyst Edward Kelly on Monday noted that as Walgreens and Rite Aid would report their monthly sales on March 3, comparable pharmacy sales would be driven by increased flu activity.

"As of Feb. 19, [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] reported that 4.8% of patients visiting healthcare centers in February displayed flu-related symptoms, versus 2% last year and 3.6% in January. IMS script data supports this view, as volume improved 4.5% in the previous four weeks ended Feb. 18, versus being flat during the same period last year," Kelly wrote.

Similarly, Kelly said that drug stores also should expect solid gains on the front end, thanks to the flu activity boost and early inflation.

Looking ahead, Kelly projected that both Walgreens and Rite Aid, respectively, would see a 4.5% increase in February comparable sales versus consensus of 3.3%, and a 1.5% to 2% increase in comparable sales versus consensus of 0.5%. For Walgreens, Kelly wrote, "[we] project a 5% gain in pharmacy (no calendar shift this month), which includes a 150 basis points benefit from increased flu activity," as well as a 3.5% comp increase for the retailer’s front end. As for Rite Aid, "the company should benefit from easier comparisons in both the front-end and pharmacy," Kelly added, with an expected increase of 1.5% in pharmacy comparable sales and a 2.5% increase in front-end sales, thanks to increased traffic from the chain’s loyalty program, Wellness+.

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CVS/pharmacy kicks off 2011 To Your Health program

BY Antoinette Alexander

WOONSOCKET, R.I. — CVS/pharmacy has announced the launch of the 2011 To Your Health program, offering free preventive health screenings at more than 800 events in communities across the country. The program is designed to help Americans determine their risk for chronic diseases and get them on a path to better health.

The program will get under way in Houston on March 5, and continue in Dallas, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Philadelphia, Chicago and Miami.

The To Your Health program will launch in seven markets with "The Makeover Mile" — a one-mile health walk led by medical and diet expert Dr. Ian Smith — to fight obesity and encourage Americans to lead healthier lifestyles.

"Exercise is an important way to combat weight gain and obesity, which can contribute to many chronic diseases," Smith stated. "’The Makeover Mile’ walk will encourage people to get out and take active steps toward better health. The To Your Health screenings will give adult participants critical information about their health status and risk for chronic disease."

Each To Your Health event will offer participating adults $150 worth of screenings for diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol, bone density (osteoporosis) and vision. Doctor consultations and medication reviews with a CVS pharmacist are available. Dental and chiropractic screenings, along with referrals for mammograms and pap smears also are available in select locations.

In 2010, the To Your Health program detected health concerns in a significant percentage of participants. Of those screened:

  • 34% had high cholesterol;
  • 38% had a high to moderate risk of developing osteoporosis;
  • 37% had hypertension; and
  • 29% had diabetes, with more than half being diagnosed with diabetes for the first time.

"Early detection is critical to managing, and in some cases reversing, the effects of chronic diseases like diabetes," stated Troyen Brennan, chief medical officer for CVS Caremark. "CVS/pharmacy is committed to improving access to preventive care and ensuring that cost is not a barrier to these important health screenings."

Another way CVS/pharmacy is helping people manage chronic disease is through its ExtraCare Advantage for Diabetes program, offering members discounts and rewards on the purchase of diabetes supplies.

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