PHARMACY

President’s call for health reform gets warm reception from pharmacy

BY Jim Frederick

WASHINGTON In his first appearance before a joint session of Congress since taking office, President Barack Obama vowed to continue his push for a massive overhaul the nation’s overburdened and expensive healthcare system – and for an expansion of health coverage to uninsured Americans – even as his administration wages a campaign to reverse the economy’s downward spiral.

Addressing lawmakers and an anxious nation last night, Obama pledged to make good on his campaign promise to make the healthcare system more responsive and cost-effective, saying those efforts also would help cut the nation’s yawning budget deficit. Those efforts, including the rapid adoption of health information technology and an increasing emphasis on preventive healthcare programs and early-stage patient intervention by pharmacists and other health professionals, won plaudits from pharmacy and healthcare advocates.

Obama called health care, along with energy and education, “areas that are absolutely critical to our economic future,” and he reiterated his oft-repeated pledge to pursue an overhaul of the healthcare system in the midst of the government’s massive campaign to reboot an economy in crisis.

“Let there be no doubt: healthcare reform cannot wait, it must not wait and it will not wait another year,” said the President. “Now is the time to jump-start job creation, restart lending and invest in areas like energy, health care and education that will grow our economy, even as we make hard choices to bring our deficit down,” Obama added. “Comprehensive healthcare reform is the best way to strengthen Medicare for years to come.” Along those lines, he said, “We will root out the waste, fraud and abuse in our Medicare program that doesn’t make our seniors any healthier.”

Obama said tackling the “crushing cost” of health care is critical to America’s economic revival. And efforts to bring down those costs – and streamline the healthcare system – already are under way, he added.

“Already, we have done more to advance the cause of healthcare reform in the last 30 days than we have in the last decade,” said the President. “When it was days old, this Congress passed a law to provide and protect health insurance for 11 million American children whose parents work full-time.”

In addition, he said, “Our recovery plan will invest in electronic health records and new technology that will reduce errors, bring down costs, ensure privacy and save lives. It will launch a new effort to conquer a disease that has touched the life of nearly every American by seeking a cure for cancer in our time. And it makes the largest investment ever in preventive care, because that is one of the best ways to keep our people healthy and our costs under control.”

Pharmacy and health groups – including the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the National Community Pharmacists Association and America’s Health Insurance Plans – say they like what they heard. “President Obama’s speech last night was one that offered ideas, inspiration and hope for the American people,” said NCPA EVP and CEO Bruce Roberts. “His commitment to a healthcare system that focuses on America’s patients is critical. We believe that pharmacists can significantly contribute to this goal because we are in the forefront of promoting preventative care and management of chronic disease through better use of prescription medications.

“The President’s emphasis on health IT is consistent with the mission of our association,” Roberts added. “More needs to be done in this regard, and we will work with the new Administration in utilizing new funding and interoperability in the stimulus package. We look forward to seeing the FY ’10 budget presented to Congress this Thursday and are encouraged that President Obama will assure community pharmacists a seat at the table in the overall healthcare debate.”

Responding to a query from Drug Store News, NACDS spokeswoman Chrissy Kopple said the chain pharmacy group “will be advocating ways that pharmacy can help improve healthcare access, quality and affordability – key themes of President Obama’s speech last night.”

AHIP president and CEO Karen Ignagni also endorsed the speech. “The President has challenged the nation to reform the healthcare system for the sake of our families, our communities and our economy,” she said on Wednesday. “Health plans strongly agree that comprehensive healthcare reform cannot wait. We will continue to offer workable solutions to ensure that all Americans have quality, affordable health care.”

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Heart drug Efient approved by EMEA

BY Alaric DeArment

INDIANAPOLIS The European Medicines Agency has approved a new drug by Eli Lilly & Co. and partner Daiichi Sankyo Co. for preventing heart attacks in patients with acute coronary syndrome undergoing a heart-opening procedure, the two companies announced Monday.

The EMEA approved Efient (prasugrel) for ACS patients undergoing percutaneous coronary intervention surgery following a positive opinion adopted by the EMEA’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use.

“This European approval is good news for doctors and patients since more than 700,000 people die from heart attacks in the European Union each year,” Daiichi Sankyo president and CEO Takashi Shoda said in a statement. “We believe Efient will become an important new treatment for patients with ACS undergoing PCI, a severe disease with potentially life-threatening consequences.” 

The Food and Drug Administration’s Cardiovascular and Renal Drugs Advisory Committee voted unanimously to recommend approval of prasugrel for the United States market on Feb. 3, but the two companies had not decided on a brand name at the time. 

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Health care to continue growing as share of economy says new CMS report

BY Alaric DeArment

WASHINGTON Growth in healthcare spending probably will decline by this year because of the recession, but health will continue growing as a share of the economy, according to a new report by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Growth in national health expenditures is expected to be 6.1% in 2008, as it increases from $2.2 trillion in 2007 to $2.4 trillion in 2008, while growth in the gross domestic product is expected to be 3.5%. For this year, healthcare spending is expected to increase by 5.5%, while the GDP is expected to decline by 0.2%. Meanwhile, the health share of the GDP is expected to increase from 16.2% in 2007 to 16.6% in 2008 and 17.6% in 2009, representing about one-third of the total increase in the health share of the GDP for 2008 through 2018.

Prescription drug spending growth is expected to slow from 4.9% in 2007 to 3.5% in 2008, as customers fill fewer prescriptions and switch to generics, but prescription drug spending growth likely will rebound to 4% in 2009.

The full report is available at http://www.cms.hhs.gov/NationalHealthExpendData/03_NationalHealthAccountsProjected.asp.

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