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Pharmacy groups appeal for stake as Congress, president mull health reform

BY Jim Frederick

WASHINGTON In an urgent bid to raise the profile of community pharmacy amid an ongoing debate in Congress and within the Obama Administration about the future of health care, a coalition of pharmacy groups today unveiled a broad set of principles to more firmly establish the role pharmacists can play in the new, electronic era of health care in the U.S.

Leaders of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the National Community Pharmacists Association, the American Pharmacists Association and other groups made their case for pharmacy at a meeting of the National Press Club this morning. They laid out a set of “Pharmacy Principles for Health Care Reform,” aimed at demonstrating how “pharmacies and pharmacists can play a critical role in providing accessible, affordable and quality health care for patients.”

With Congress and the White House mulling massive changes to the healthcare system and the transformation of that system through electronic recordkeeping and health information technology, or HIT, the stakes for pharmacy are high. Today’s press event marked an urgent effort by retail pharmacy to get out in front of those changes. 

The presentation also included nine other pharmacy and retail organizations including the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy, American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, American College of Clinical Pharmacy, American Society of Consultant Pharmacists, American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, Food Marketing Institute, National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations, Rite Aid Corp. and Walgreens. The coalition laid out three goals related to medication access and use – goals they assert should be an integral part of any health reform debate. Among them: 

  • Improving the quality and safety of medication use;
  •  Assuring patient access to needed medications and pharmacy services;
  • Promoting pharmacy and HIT interoperability, so that all health providers, including pharmacies, are linked via electronic data and decision-making platforms to improve patient care.

Organization leaders elaborated on those goals at today’s event. “Those of us who are part of this coalition call on Congress and the Obama Administration to consider this very important reform principle: to promote pharmacy and health information technology interoperability,” NACDS president and CEO Steven Anderson told reporters. “In short, the promise of HIT will not be realized if electronic silos replace paper silos, and unless we … commit financial resources. We need to make sure that financial resources will not be wasted if we have systems that don’t talk to each other or provide the right kind of information.” 

Getting healthcare reform right, said Anderson, means:

  • Pharmacists should have electronic access to patient health information, such as diagnosis and laboratory values. “This information must be shared among health care providers through an interoperable electronic health information system,” Anderson noted.
  • Federal and state grants to health care providers should support the growth of interoperable health care systems.
  • Guidelines should be established to protect patient information while assuring that these protections also allow information flow among health care providers to enhance treatment decisions.

“Pharmacies and pharmacists are committed to protecting patient information, and to saving lives and improving lives,” said Anderson. “Their views on how to accomplish these objectives…are worth serious consideration by our policymakers.” 

Added the American Pharmacists Association’s EVP and CEO Designate, Thomas Menighan, “Improved health care lies with empowered individuals in charge of their health. Any new system must ensure quality and safety by providing patients with the tools and support needed to self-manage their care. MTM services provided by pharmacists are an essential part of that reform.” 

Noting that 95% of the U.S. population lives within five miles of a community pharmacy, NCPA EVP and CEO Bruce Roberts called on policymakers to view pharmacy “as part of the solution to the healthcare cost crisis, not part of the problem. 

“We are among the most successful health care providers, especially in rural and urban areas where many people rely on the pharmacist as their primary healthcare provider,” Roberts asserted. “Pharmacists are also providers of other vital care products and services, such as vaccinations, durable medical equipment, diabetes test supplies. Many pharmacies have become wellness centers for their communities, and some pharmacists specialize in helping treat chronic conditions such as diabetes and obesity.” 

For these reasons, said NCPA’s top executive, “Our coalition intends to promote policies, as part of healthcare reform, that will assure that the infrastructure that provides these products and services to millions of Americans remains strong and viable. 

“Continued community-based access to these products and services is critical, especially for the increasing numbers of older Americans that our health care system will be serving,” Roberts said. “As the baby boomers advance in age and become increasingly reliant on medications and adherence to medication therapy, and as prescription drugs continue as the solution to many health care problems, we as an industry must do everything in our power to assure that the access remains intact. 

“We’re relying on the federal government to help us in this charge,” he added.

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Survey finds doctors concerned with medication adherence

BY Alaric DeArment

NEW YORK A survey of 700 doctors by healthcare information firm Epocrates finds that many Americans are failing to take their medications to save money.

Almost all of the doctors ­ 95% — expressed concern that patients were not taking their medications as prescribed and also failing to have prescriptions filled or sharing medications with others. 

“These are challenging times for many Americans, and some people make the mistake of deciding needed medication is less important,” Dr. Edison Tan said in a statement. “If patients have financial concerns they should speak with their physician about alternatives ­ there is a lot we can do to help.”

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NACDS pleads with House panel on tough DME bidding restrictions

BY Jim Frederick

WASHINGTON A plan by Congress to force pharmacy retailers to bid competitively for the right to sell durable medical equipment, prosthetics, orthotics and supplies to Medicare patients should be scrapped because it would limit patients’ access to those products and make it virtually impossible for many pharmacies to compete in that business, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores warned lawmakers today.

In written testimony to the House Committee on Small Business Subcommittee on Rural Development, Entrepreneurship and Trade, NACDS expressed concern about a proposed federal expansion of the competitive bidding program to include diabetic supplies, including glucose monitors and even testing strips. The group also urged the panel to overturn plans by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to include diabetic supplies in the national mail-order program for federally funded pharmaceuticals and health supplies.

Either move, NACDS warned, “could limit participation by pharmacies and reduce diabetic patients’ access to life-saving supplies and services. Second, as CMS moves forward with the first round of competitive bidding, it is critical that contract suppliers’ marketing practices be subject to strict oversight by CMS, and [that] any communication to diabetic patients contain information about the continued availability of diabetic supplies at retail pharmacies.”

In its testimony, NACDS reminded lawmakers that “many Medicare beneficiaries obtain their DMEPOS, particularly diabetic supplies, from their local pharmacy.

“In fact, a recent study conducted by HealthPolicy R&D found that nearly two-thirds of older diabetic patients obtain their diabetic test strips from retail-based community pharmacies,” the group noted.

NACDS also pleaded with members of the House subcommittee to “consider the competitive bidding program within the context of a broader set of difficulties pharmacies and patients face in the DMEPOS program.

“CMS’ recent initiatives, such as the requirement for pharmacies to obtain accreditation and a surety bond in the amount of $50,000 per location create significant administrative and financial burdens for pharmacies, resulting in the likelihood of beneficiary access difficulties,” added the pharmacy group.

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