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Pallone Pledges Support on Medicaid, Reform

BY Jim Frederick

PALM BEACH, Fla. —As Congress grapples with an economy and a health system in crisis, pharmacy advocates must redouble their efforts to reach federal lawmakers through grassroots lobbying and direct contact with their representatives if they’re to win a seat at the health reform table, an influential member of the House of Representatives told chain pharmacy leaders here.

Addressing the final business session of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores 2009 Annual Meeting on April 21, Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., urged NACDS members to ramp up their campaign for a fair Medicaid payment system and a bigger role as community health providers. Pallone, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, pledged to work on their behalf.

Pallone is the primary sponsor of the Fair Medicaid Drug Payment Act of 2007, which NACDS president and CEO Steve Anderson said “establishes an accurate benchmark for pharmacy reimbursement for generic drugs in the Medicaid program and ensures continued Medicaid beneficiary access to pharmacy services.”

Pallone’s legislation would eliminate a plan by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to shift to a new and controversial payment system for reimbursing pharmacies for dispensing generic medications to patients enrolled in Medicaid. That system, based on the average manufacturer’s price of the drug as defined by CMS, would drastically reduce reimbursements to pharmacies and actually discourage the use of lower-cost generics, according to pharmacy advocates.

Addressing NACDS members, Pallone agreed. “We are trying to encourage not only health reform but the use of generics, and the last thing I would like to see is for us to move away from generics—which obviously save the federal government and the system money—back to name-brand drugs, which could result if what you can charge for generics falls too low.” Nevertheless, Pallone cautioned that the lack of understanding among most lawmakers of health and pharmacy issues creates a big obstacle to reform.

For that reason, said Pallone, “I would stress that your role as an organization—doing grassroots, contacting members of Congress, taking them to the local pharmacy and explaining to them what this is about—is very crucial over the next few months.”

Pallone said the Fair Payment bill would soon be reintroduced in the House and Senate. “We’re working with Sen. Baucus, and hopefully within the next few weeks, we will introduce the legislation, and the two bills, mine and Sen. Baucus’ bill, will hopefully be the same,” he said.

The biggest hurdle, other than educating lawmakers, added the congressman, is money. “It can be expensive to correct this, and we need to figure out how to pay for it.”

As things stand now, said Pallone, the retail pharmacy industry is on borrowed time. “The Medicare Improvement Act extended the deadline for the Deficit Reduction Act to go into effect until September of this year, and you have a court challenge still out there. But we want to fix this legislatively.”

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CVS opens Beauty360 No.3 in one of its original Project Life stores

BY DSN STAFF

NEW YORK — If anyone thinks that CVS has recast itself solely as a healthcare company, given its string of acquisitions in recent years — particularly, Caremark and MinuteClinic — they probably haven’t seen a Beauty360 store yet. In fact, standing in the middle of one of these 3,000 sq.-ft., high-end beauty boutiques, you might have a hard time recognizing you were in a CVS store at all.

Beauty360 is the culmination of the long-time vision and an awful lot of hard work on the part of several key individuals, most notably, CVS’ top merchant Mike Bloom, VP beauty merchandising Cheryl Mahoney, senior beauty category manager Mary Lou Gardner and Mike LePage, director, retail innovations and store design. Importantly, it is also a very bold statement that, for as much energy as CVS Caremark devotes to driving solutions that save lots of money for big payers of health care, it is very much still focused on its stores, and using other areas beyond health and wellness to spark innovation and create reasons for customers to shop their stores.

You want to talk about growing the market basket? How about adding a whole other basket? With prices on many items topping $100, Beauty360’s contribution to overall store profitability is palpable. According to CVS executives, sales in the two other locations the company operates in Mission Viejo, Calif., and Washington, D.C., are well ahead of expectations.

And why wouldn’t they be? No woman in her right mind, with at least a minute or two to spare, isn’t going to check out Beauty360 — particularly in the ritzy neighborhoods the chain is putting the stores in. The average household income in Mission Viejo is roughly twice the national average; in terms of shopping, Fodor’s calls Dupont Circle “a younger, less staid version of Georgetown — and almost as pricey”; and the newest Beauty360 in Ridgefield, Conn., is surrounded by seven-figure homes. Bloom says CVS is planning to a whole bunch of them into the former Longs stores it is currently converting, which includes many more posh areas to pick from.

With just 30 of the stores planned by the end of the year, and about 50 by this time next year, it likely will be a while before the impact of Beauty360 begins to be seen in CVS’ earnings. In the meantime, you can expect sales per square foot to balloon in the stores that share a roof with a Beauty360.

Beauty360 is an important message to its competitors that CVS hasn’t forgotten about the importance of creating excitement in its stores.

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SDI launches iPhone, iPod application for allergy sufferers

BY DSN STAFF

NEW YORK The addition of SDI’s Pollen.com allergy applications to the growing number of iPhone/iPod touch-friendly, health-related applications is just the latest example of how an e-health evolution is more and more becoming a part of America’s daily lexicon.

 

Already, there are more than 100 health-related applications available for the Apple products, including FDA for iPhone and WebMD Mobile. According to Apple COO Tim Cook, those apps are available to some 37 million users — that’s how many iPhones and iPod touches are currently on the market.

 

 

Concerned about what exactly those food additives in your favorite snack are? There’s an app for that. Worried about your blood pressure or heart rate? There’s an app for that. Want to know what your blood-sugar level means? There’s an app for that, too.

 

Indeed, while SDI was preparing for its official Pollen.com iPhone app launch, two Northwestern University teams took home the top two prizes awarded in the Diabetes Mine Design Challenge last week. The challenge? Develop an iPhone app that diabetics could use to help manage their condition.

 

Next month, Apple plans to release an updated iPhone 3.0 with support for Bluetooth-enabled medical peripheral devices, like Johnson & Johnson’s LifeScan glucometer. And while Apple is updating its iPhone capabilities, Palm will be introducing its Palm Pre, slated to debut June 6 on the Sprint network. The Palm Pre is expected to give Apple’s iPhone a run for its money, but at the very least, it’ll open the door of health-related mobile apps to that many more users.

 

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