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Rite Aid helps patients with customized Medicare advice

BY Michael Johnsen

CAMP HILL, Pa. Rite Aid announced Tuesday that all Rite Aid pharmacies are now offering patients free printed reports on the three lowest-cost Medicare plans best suited for their current medication needs in an effort to make choosing a Medicare prescription benefit plan easier.

“At Rite Aid, we’re committed to making sure our patients understand all of their options under the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit,” Bill Wolfe, Rite Aid group vice president of pharmacy said. “We’re providing tools online and in store, and our pharmacists and pharmacy staff are eager to help beneficiaries use these valuable resources.”

A free guide to Medicare Part D Plans is also available in stores and online, and patients and caregivers can check out details of all plans available in their area at www.riteaid.com/medicareadvisor.

Online, Rite Aid has posted information that allows patients or their caregivers to get a detailed comparison of all available plans, including drug prices, deductibles and monthly premiums for a side-by-side comparison. The web site also includes general information on the 2009 Part D program, including registration deadlines and how the plan works.

Rite Aid pharmacists have been trained to counsel patients and answer any questions whether patients are eligible for Medicare Part D coverage for the first time or are looking for a plan better than their current plan. Those eligible for the Medicare Part D benefit include people over age 65 and people with disabilities.

Rite Aid also offers its senior customers additional benefits through its free loyalty program Living More. Living More members receive a 20 percent discount on purchases the first Tuesday of every month and 10 percent discount on the other Tuesdays of the month, a 10 percent discount on cash prescriptions every day (except in California), a 10 percent discount on Rite Aid Brand products every day and exclusive specials throughout the store. Living More currently has nearly 4 million enrolled members.

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Fred’s reports total sales for Q3 2008

BY Michael Johnsen

MEMPHIS, Tenn. Fred’s last week reported totals sales of $417.8 million, down 1 percent for the quarter ending Nov. 1, mostly as a result of store closures—Fred’s closed 74 underperforming stores and 22 underperforming pharmacies this year.

“We were pleased that October comparable store sales remained inline with guidance, reflecting a continuation of improving traffic trends and reinforcing the positive impact of our sales initiatives,” Fred’s chief executive officer Michael Hayes said. “At the same time, we absorbed the effects of an ongoing shift from branded to generic prescriptions in our pharmacy department, which masks comparable script growth and improved pharmacy margins.”  

Comparable store sales for the quarter rose 1.4 percent, compared with a 1.1 percent increase in the third quarter last year.

“We enter the fourth quarter with our inventory positions attuned to an upcoming holiday season that displays signs of uncertainty,” Hayes said. “Although the retail climate remains very difficult to predict, we have seen more stable customer patterns over the last few months. … Lower gas prices will help in these uncertain economic times; however, we continue to anticipate that consumers will remain thrifty and value-driven through the holiday season.”

Fred’s opened one pharmacy in October. During the first nine months of the current fiscal year, Fred’s has opened 17 new stores and five new pharmacies.

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Consumer survey results show more shoppers doubtful about economy

BY Michael Johnsen

SCHAUMBURG, Ill. The majority (86 percent) of U.S. consumers believe the country is currently in a recession and more than half (54 percent) believe it will last longer than 12 months, according to a new online survey released last week by The Nielsen Company, conducted in the midst of economic turmoil last month.

“By the end of the second quarter, most U.S. consumers had already come to the conclusion the country was in recession,” said James Russo, vice president of marketing, The Nielsen Company. “As far as consumers are concerned, it doesn’t particularly matter that a growing number of economic indicators are pointing in that direction. They were feeling pain in their wallets and bank accounts long before October’s tumultuous stock market activity.”

Only 18 percent of those surveyed believed the recession will be over within a year.  The least amount of confidence was expressed by 25- to 29-year olds, with just 6 percent saying the recession would end in the next 12 months. Similarly, only 7 percent of consumers age 65 and over expressed optimism that the recession would soon run its course.

“Younger consumers grew up in an era of prosperity and have never really known economic challenges to this extent,” Russo said. “To them perhaps, the current economic downturn is uncharted territory. There is a pervasive feeling of uncertainty, and concern which is clearly affecting spending levels. Older consumers are understandably concerned because of the potential impact of the economic downturn on their near-term financial needs.”

Of greater concern is the fact that more women than men feel the U.S. economy is in a recession, 91 percent versus 82 percent, especially as in many households women are the primary shoppers. When asked about the state of their own personal finances over the next 12 months, 39 percent of females responded “not so good” compared to 28 percent of males. Only 16 percent of women surveyed think their job prospects over the next 12 months will be good, compared to 26 percent of men.

The pessimism around the state of the economy has prompted many consumers to notch some new holes into their collective belts. Nielsen’s survey found that more than two-thirds of consumers are trying to save on gas and electricity, 56 percent are cutting back on out-of-home entertainment, spending less on new clothes (55 percent) or using their cars less often (54 percent). 

Just 4 percent report taking no action at all.

And any increase in discretionary income may not provide an immediate lift to the economy, the survey found, because many of those consumers are taking any extra cash they may have and placing it into savings accounts (38 percent of consumers) or paying off old debts (36 percent).

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