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TRICARE bill a pending victory for Rx

BY Jim Frederick

WASHINGTON —Retail pharmacy came one big step closer to a key victory in its ongoing battle to level the playing field with mail-order pharmacy early this month.

That step came with passage by the U.S. Senate of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008. Among its many components, the bill includes the reauthorization of the TRICARE military health system and its prescription drug coverage program.

At press time, the bill still required negotiation of differences between the House of Representatives and Senate versions, followed by the signature of the President. But if signed into law as written, the legislation would continue allowing soldiers, military retirees and their families to continue using local community pharmacies for their prescriptions without penalty, rather than being forced to turn to mail-order pharmacies.

The Senate bill includes the “pro-soldier, pro-savings” approach to prescriptions filled through TRICARE that’s advocated by groups like the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and the National Community Pharmacists Association. It would extend the current freeze on increases in retail pharmacy out-of-pocket costs for TRICARE members and their families.

To that end, the defense funding bill includes language, offered by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), that prohibits increased co-payments for military beneficiaries who choose to have their prescriptions filled by a retail pharmacy, instead of opting for medicines by mail.

The Senate bill also clarifies the ability of the Department of Defense to negotiate with drug manufacturers for federal pricing discounts for TRICARE prescriptions filled at retail, in the same manner as those filled at military bases or by mail order. Those price discounts could yield $300 million in savings in fiscal 2008, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates, and $1.8 billion in savings through the year 2012.

“In addition to leveling the playing field between mail order and retail pharmacies, these tremendous savings eliminate the need to penalize beneficiaries who choose to obtain their prescription medications and services from their local pharmacies,” NACDS noted in a statement.

“This bill is pro-soldier in that it protects the right of over 9 million TRICARE beneficiaries to benefit from their relationships with chain community pharmacists…which improve patient outcomes,” said NACDS president and chief executive officer Steven Anderson. “The bill also is prosavings for military families and for the Department of Defense alike.

“Now that these provisions have passed both the House and Senate, chain community pharmacy will remain vigilant to ensure this sound approach to public policy is enacted into law,” he added.

Through the Coalition for Community Pharmacy Action, NACDS and NCPA are lobbying for the quick enactment of the law.

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Fred’s reports both monthly and quarterly record sales

BY Allison Cerra

MEMPHIS, Tenn. Fred’s Inc. reported record sales for the five-week and eight-month periods which ended Oct. 6, 2007.

The company said Friday that its total sales for the month increased 2 percent to $161.4 million compared to the same period last year. Total sales for the year-to-date period increased 5 percent to $1.157 billion.

Same store sales for the month rose 1 percent on top of a 5 percent increase in September last year. On a comparable store basis, sales increased 1.3 percent through the first eight months of fiscal 2007 compared with a 2.7 percent gain in the year-earlier period. Same-store sales are a key predictor of how well the company performs in stores that have been open for several years, and how well the newly open stores will do in the future.

“September sales came in at the low end of our forecasted range of a 1 percent to 3 percent increase, affected by unusually warm weather across our markets and the disruption caused by the updating of 98 stores under our refresher program,” said Fred’s Stores chief executive officer Michael J. Hayes. “We look forward to finishing our refresher program in October with the last 60 stores and to a better economic environment for our customers going forward, as the benefits of the minimum wage increase and the focus of Federal Reserve Board on the credit crunch take hold.”

Fred’s opened four stores at the end of September, bringing total store openings to 22 for the year-to-date period. These new store openings have been balanced by the company’s decision to close underperforming stores. In the remaining months, Fred’s Stores said that it plans to open 14 additional stores, with no further planned closings, which will result in a net increase in stores of 2 percent for the year.

Fred’s Inc. operates 702 discount general merchandise stores, including 24 franchised stores in the southeastern United States.

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Target to open another 61 stores nationwide

BY Allison Cerra

MINNEAPOLIS Target announced that it will be opening an additional 61 Target stores, the company said Friday.

The stores, which will all open Oct. 14, will open in 22 different states. The majority of the stores are making their debut in Arizona, California, Ohio and Texas.

In addition to offering the latest in trend-right merchandise, Target also brings a 44-year tradition of community involvement. The retail chain commits itself to local communities donating more than $3 million each week to area nonprofit organizations, becoming involved in local volunteerism efforts through Target Volunteers, and orchestrating other special projects that help meet area social service, arts and education needs.

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