PHARMACY

Reps. seek sponsors for MTM bill

BY Alaric DeArment

NEW YORK — Two members of Congress are looking for co-sponsors for a bill that would strengthen the medication therapy management benefit in the Medicare prescription drug program.

Last year, Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ala.; and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., introduced H.R. 891, the Medication Therapy Management Benefits Act, which would allow elderly people with at least one chronic condition access to Medicare Part D coverage for MTM. Currently, only those with multiple conditions are eligible.

In late January, Ross and Rodgers sent a letter to other members of the House of Representatives seeking co-sponsors for the bill. "There is significant evidence that MTM improves care and saves money," the two wrote, mentioning that CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield of Maryland found in a study last year that for every dollar spent on MTM, $10 was saved in avoided healthcare costs.

The letter drew praise from the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. "Pharmacist-administered MTM services allow a clinically trained pharmacist to conduct one-to-one counseling sessions with patients to help ensure the best combinations of medicines are taken properly," NACDS president and CEO Steve Anderson said. "MTM is just one of many services provided by pharmacists that demonstrate the unsurpassed value of community pharmacy. These services can improve health and reduce healthcare costs across the board."


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PHARMACY

Investigational Merck drug ‘significantly’ reduces cardiovascular death

BY Alaric DeArment

WHITEHOUSE STATION, N.J. — A drug under development by Merck "significantly" reduced the risk of heart attack, stroke and cardiovascular death in patients, according to clinical trial results announced Tuesday.

Merck announced the release of data from the 26,449-patient "TRA-2P" study of vorapaxar, a drug designed to prevent clotting of the blood. The drug also showed a significant increase in bleeding, including within the skull, known as intracranial hemorrhage, though there was a lower risk of intracranial hemorrhage in patients without a history of stroke.

"In developing vorapaxar, Merck and our scientific collaborators set a very high bar — would the addition of vorapaxar to standard of care provide incremental benefit in preventing clots?" Merck Research Labs president Peter Kim said. "We are pleased that TRA-2P met its primary endpoint, and we look forward to discussing the results with the scientific community."

Results of the trial will be presented at the American College of Cardiology Scientific Sessions next month.


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Walgreens takes its lumps and moves on

BY Jim Frederick

Apparently, there’s life after Express Scripts.

Walgreens took its lumps in January after failing to mend its very public rift with pharmacy benefit management giant Express Scripts, reporting a 2.3% drop in sales for the month. But considering that the PBM’s millions of customers represented $5.3 billion in prescription sales for the 7,818-store drug chain in fiscal 2011, it could have been worse.

January was the first month in which Walgreens operated without benefit of a contract to fill prescriptions for Express Scripts’ millions of members, so it marks a litmus test for the nation’s biggest drug store operator as it moves into a post-ESI era. The impact of that loss of business was plain: In spite of a 2.7% increase in sales at the front of its stores for the month, customer traffic in comparable stores — those open more than a year — fell off 0.6%. The impact on Walgreens’ pharmacy business was much more direct, with pharmacy sales down 6% and comparable-store pharmacy sales sliding 7.9%. What’s more, Walgreens pharmacists filled 8.6% fewer prescriptions during January than they did in January 2011, when Express Scripts accounted for 12.4% of the company’s total prescription volume, according to the chain.

Company leaders were braced for the downturn, and had been since making the momentous decision to walk away from Express Scripts’ costly business in mid-2011. That decision was based on the failure by the two sides to come to terms over the level at which ESI reimbursed the chain for filling its members’ scripts, and since then neither side has budged.

“We expected that January would be a very challenging month on a comparable-prescription basis because of the impacts from not being part of the Express Scripts network as of Jan. 1 and the much milder cough, cold and flu season we have been experiencing,” said Kermit Crawford, Walgreens president of pharmacy, health and wellness services and solutions.

Nevertheless, Crawford said he and other company brass already are well along on the post-ESI strategy that, if successful, could serve as a template for how the retail pharmacy industry’s biggest and most powerful players could reduce their dependence on PBM contracts and still thrive. “With January now behind us, we are moving forward with relationships with large and small employers, health systems, physician groups and other PBMs who value Walgreens’ ability to help lower overall healthcare costs,” Crawford said. “As we expect these relationships to grow, and as we move past the impact from this year’s weak flu season, we anticipate an improvement in the coming months in the number of comparable prescriptions filled relative to January’s result.”

On Thursday, Walgreens added another plank to its new strategic platform when it agreed to buy key assets from BioScrip, a national provider of specialty pharmacy and home health services. The addition of BioScrip’s “clinically focused community specialty pharmacies and access to additional limited distribution drug therapies” will “create a strong network of support for our core drug store business to provide specialty pharmacy solutions to our patients,” Walgreens president and CEO Greg Wasson said. “This acquisition also significantly expands our nationwide reach to an additional half-million patients with chronic and complex health conditions who have strong clinical relationships with their current BioScrip pharmacy,” he added.

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D.CHUNG says:
Feb-09-2012 12:44 am

Walgreens Leads the Way! period.

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