For pharmacy, Obama’s election signals change, muted by economy
WASHINGTON Change is coming. And whether you voted for the self-described candidate of change or not, the remarkable rise of Barack Hussein Obama to the nation’s highest office could bring new opportunities—both for the U.S. health care system and for the often fraught relationship between the White House and retail pharmacy.When the nation’s 44th president takes office in January, he’ll bring a mandate to push for change in many aspects of government, including the way health care is paid for and delivered in the United States. But he also may bring a new, more flexible tone to the give-and-take between the executive branch and the community pharmacy industry, after eight years of a Bush administration that often displayed indifference and even, at times, apparent hostility to pharmacy’s interests.
Pharmacy and healthcare leaders—some of whom may have opposed Obama as a candidate—are expressing a hopeful attitude about their future ability to work with federal agencies like the Dept. of Health & Human Services, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid and the Food and Drug Administration under an Obama administration.
Among them: Steve Anderson, president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. “Previously, we have had the opportunity to thank Senator Obama for cosponsoring legislation of importance to pharmacy…we [now] have the opportunity to congratulate President-elect Obama on his historic victory,” Anderson said. “Immediately, we express our enthusiasm to continue to work with him, his administration and members of Congress of both parties to enhance the quality, affordability and accessibility of patient-centric healthcare.”
There is little time, however, to savor victories, Anderson noted. “While it is important for us to recognize what we have achieved…there is tremendous work that lies ahead,” he said Nov. 5. “The new government faces a challenging economy, states are struggling financially, and political momentum can build behind counterproductive policies at any time.”
Bruce Roberts, executive vice president and chief executive officer of the National Community Pharmacists Association, called Obama’s election “an exciting day for pharmacy practitioners,” and called the president-elect “a strong candidate for healthcare reform.” Roberts was especially buoyed by an Oct. 11 letter from Obama to NCPA, in which the candidate reiterated his support for the industry.
“I have a strong record in authoring and supporting legislation that supports community pharmacists,” the candidate asserted in his note to independent pharmacy owners. “Together, we took important steps to save community pharmacies by passing the Fair Medicaid Drug Payment Act…and the Fair & Speedy Treatment [FAST] of Medicare Prescription Drugs Claims Act as part of the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act [H.R. 63331]. I was proud to support H.R. 6331, which passed over President Bush’s veto. And I will work to fix health care permanently, so we don’t have to fight for legislation every year just to maintain the status quo.
“It’s time to go on offense for quality healthcare in every part of our country,” Obama added in his letter. He also praised the profession, noting, “Pharmacists have always been on the cutting edge of quality improvement, from early adoption of health IT to initiatives to reduce adverse drug events, to medication therapy management.”
The nation’s 44th president-elect has made a lot of promises, among them a major push to extend healthcare coverage to millions of the uninsured and to make healthcare services—including prescription drug therapy—more affordable and accessible to all Americans.
It would be a daunting task in the best of times. In the midst of a plummeting economy and a credit crisis, with the nation’s treasury plunging ever deeper into debt to fund a financial bailout, the job of overhauling the U.S. healthcare system and extending health coverage to all Americans may prove too much for any president.
Employers, in particular, express concern about Obama’s plan to require them to “either offer health coverage or pay into a government fund to cover the uninsured.” Just 31 percent of employers who responded to a poll from the Mercer consulting and research group support the proposal, which is a keystone of Obama’s health reform proposals.
According to the National Business Group on Health, a coalition of more than 300 large employers that reported on the Mercer findings, employers “will resist efforts by policymakers to use employers to finance health care reform.
“While employers strongly support the goal of expanding coverage, we cannot use employers to finance reform,” said coalition president Helen Darling last month.
That won’t ease pressure on President Obama to do something for the nation’s 47 million uninsured—or the tens of millions of Americans who face mounting health and prescription drug costs despite being insured. “Health care is now every bit as much an economic issue for the American people as job insecurity, mortgage payments and credit card debt,” said Kaiser Family Foundation president and chief executive officer Drew Altman two weeks before the election.
A Kaiser poll last month should inform the new president’s agenda. “Making healthcare and health insurance more affordable is the most important healthcare issue cited by half of all voters,” Kaiser reported. What’s more, noted the group, “In the voters’ minds the financial meltdown has not displaced the need for health reform. Nearly twice as many voters say that in the face of the economic challenges it is more important than ever to take on health reform…than say, ‘we cannot take on health reform right now,’” by a margin of 62 percent to 34 percent.
Surely driving the push for a reform of the U.S. healthcare system will be another factor, as well: an electorate energized by a campaign that drew in millions of new voters. Many of those voters are likely to call loudly and often for reform, driving a more activist administration already committed to change.
In the months following the inauguration of President Obama, look for new federal incentives to spur more generic drug utilization, a centerpiece of his health reform proposals. Look also for a push, both in the executive and legislative branches, to legalize the importation of drugs from Canada, however ineffective that move may be as a tool for lowering drug costs to U.S. consumers. That, too, was also part of the Obama platform.
Like business owners in other sectors, many retail leaders remain leery of the kind of ambitious government intervention they see Obama espousing, and skeptical of his ability to do much anyway, given the dismal economic outlook. An informal but broad-ranging survey of retail pharmacy executives by Drug Store News in early October revealed a cautious outlook for 2009 and the new administration.
“All we know is that the more the federal government becomes the payer, the tighter the profitability for retail pharmacy becomes,” asserted one supermarket pharmacy executive.
FDA announces recall of Tyco ReliOn single-use syringes
ROCKVILLE, Md. Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday that Tyco Healthcare Group is recalling a lot of its ReliOn single-use syringes for diabetics.
The recall affects lot number 813900, which contines 100 31-gauge ReliOn hypodermic syringes containing 1 milliliter of U-100 insulin. Tyco distributed 4,710 boxes in the recalled lot, totaling 471,000 individual syringes. Wal-Mart sold the syringes at its stores between Aug. 1 and Oct. 8, and Tyco voluntarily recalled the lot Oct. 9. Wal-Mart has sent letters to 16,500 customers notifying them of the recall and posted an announcement on its Web site.
Can-Am Care distributes the syringes and sells them through Wal-Mart and Sam?s Club stores under the Reli-On brand. The mass-merchandiser has requested that all users of this type of syringe return those that come from the recalled lot.
The FDA said that during the packaging of the syringes, some syringes labeled for use with U-40 insulin were mixed with syringes labeled for use with U-100 insulin and then packaged individually and in boxes as 100 units for use with U-100 insulin. Tyco has received one report of complications due to use of a syringe from the recalled lot.
Medical information leaks prompt added awareness about records security
CHICAGO News reports about high-profile victims of personal medical information security and privacy breaches highlight the need to educate and inform healthcare professionals, their employees, the media and consumers on privacy protection, an professional organization for the health information management industry said Thursday.
The American Health Information Management Association said that educating healthcare professionals on privacy and security issues is an ongoing concern within the health information industry.
“It’s critical for healthcare professionals to receive more education about good privacy practices and appropriate interpretation of HIPAA and other regulations,” AHIMA president Wendy Mangin said.