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Walgreens announces positive February numbers

BY Antoinette Alexander

DEERFIELD, Ill. Walgreens announced on Tuesday that February sales rose 14.5 percent as same-store sales climbed 8.3 percent.

Sales for the month totaled $4.93 billion, up 14.5 percent from $4.3 billion in the year-ago period. Same-store sales rose 8.3 percent, while same-store front-end sales increased 8.2 percent.

This year’s results benefited from one extra day because of leap year. Same-store sales for 28 days this year compared with 28 days last year rose 4.2 percent, while comparable front-end sales for 28 days increased 4.6 percent.

Pharmacy sales increased 14.7 percent, while same-store pharmacy sales increased 8.3 percent (4.1 percent for 28 days). According to Walgreens, comparable pharmacy sales were negatively impacted by 4.6 percentage points on a 28-day comparison because of generic drug introductions in the last 12 months. Total prescriptions filled at comparable stores increased 7.4 percent (3.2 percent for 28 days). Pharmacy sales accounted for 64.5 percent of total sales for the month.

The retailer noted that, while more flu cases were reported during February, flu-related prescriptions did not reach the level of a year ago. Also impacting prescriptions was the late January switch of the drug Zyrtec from prescription to non-prescription status. The combined negative impact on February prescriptions filled for flu and Zyrtec was 1.4 percent on a 28-day comparable basis.

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Chains expand offerings for diabetics

BY Drew Buono

The rampant rise of diabetes as one of the nation’s most acute healthcare problems is spurring an explosion in in-store services and product offerings among U.S. pharmacy operators.

With obesity levels rising and many Americans still avoiding exercise and good nutrition, adult-onset, Type 2 diabetes has become the fastest-growing epidemic in the United States. Worse, the disease is striking unprecedented numbers of children as junk food, video games and the elimination of recess and physical education in many schools combine to drive up rates of diabetes among the very young.

In response, virtually every drug store, supermarket and mass merchant pharmacy retailer offers some type of diabetes prevention, monitoring and/or patient education program for its customers. Those efforts yield tangible healthcare benefits. And with the average diabetic spending between $2,000 and $3,000 per year on prescription medicines and over-the-counter supplies to counter the disease and its effects, it’s no secret that a solid patient-care and merchandising effort on behalf of patients with the disease can also yield big financial dividends.

Here’s a look at some recent diabetes programs within community pharmacy:

Some Medicine Shoppe Pharmacies and Medicap Pharmacy stores have been offering Specialized Care Centers for Diabetes to patients who suffer from the chronic disease. The centers offer education and counseling from the pharmacist, as well as providing a special selection of products for people living with the disease.

Among the services offered by the two franchise pharmacy chains—both of which are divisions of Cardinal Health—are quarterly educational programs or support groups on topics affecting people with diabetes, and monthly downloads of blood-glucose meters. Consenting customers also can have the report sent to their physician free of charge.

The Specialized Care Centers also offer training on blood-glucose monitors and insulin pens, as well as informational materials from pharmaceutical manufacturers. In addition, those Medicine Shoppe and Medicap pharmacies also offer personalized, monthly counseling sessions with educational materials to assist in managing diabetes, whether Type 1 or Type 2. The pharmacies also partner with local experts and pharmaceutical manufacturers on many of these initiatives to help provide customers with the best information and care available, as well as the best assortment of diabetes-related products.

“Our pharmacies place a high value on personalized attention and customer care, and we’re experiencing tremendous momentum with our Specialized Care Centers, demonstrating the demand for this service and the passion our stores have for meeting the needs of customers with diabetes,” said Keith Cook, vice president of pharmacy solutions.

In addition, both franchise operations team up each year with the American Diabetes Association to offer free recipe cards for people with diabetes.

“Our Medicine Shoppe and Medicap Pharmacy pharmacists are dedicated to giving our customers with diabetes the advice, time and education they need to manage the disease, which includes providing educational materials like the free recipe cards,” said Chrissy Ellegood, director of diabetes care for Medicine Shoppe International.

Diabetes Shoppe, a program within Amerisource-Bergen’s Good Neighbor Pharmacies division, has launched a new Web site, livingwithoutlimits.diabetesshoppe.com. In addition to providing links to Web sites, which help an individual with diabetes obtain the most current information on managing his or her condition, the site includes an area where people can write their story about how diabetes has impacted them.

The stories feature people who are living with diabetes, as well as friends who have been inspired by others managing the condition. The Web site also follows the journeys of “Iron Andy” Holder, the GNP spokesman who is “Living Without Limits” and managing Type 1 diabetes as an Ironman competitor.

GNP’s Web site also will offer new releases with information vital to visitors, provide information about where to locate Diabetes Shoppes and provide links to Web sites dedicated to diabetes that will offer useful information to users.

H-E-B has partnered with a local elementary school to foster better nutritional choices and understanding of the benefits of healthy eating among second-graders. The program, called “Be a Healthy Buddy,” encourages good diet and exercise in diabetes and obesity prevention.

In line with the effort, representatives from H-E-B visit the school and distribute apples and other healthy snacks, as well as pedometers to encourage physical activity and a journal with which students can log the number of steps they take during the day.

Some Rite Aid stores in Orange County, Calif., pitched in to help host the first annual “Battle of the Badges,” a weight-loss contest among law-enforcement staff from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and the Santa Ana Police Department. The participants agreed to enter a 10-week program offered by Lindora Medical Clinic, which operates some of its clinics in select local Rite Aid locations.

“We hope that Battle of the Badges calls attention to the problems associated with being overweight, one of America’s most daunting health crises,” said Lindora president Cynthia Stamper Graff. “By participating in Battle of the Badges, we hope that they will inspire the rest of the community—an estimated 66 percent of whom are overweight—to become lean for life, thus reducing their chances of developing stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.”

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CMS expands competitive bidding for DMEPOS to 70 new markets

BY Michael Johnsen

BALTIMORE —At the beginning of the year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services named 70 new metropolitan statistical areas that will be part of the second phase of a competitive bidding program designed to help lower Medicare beneficiaries’ out-of-pocket costs and improve their access to certain durable medical equipment, prosthetics, orthotics and supplies.

The list includes several major big-city drug store markets, including Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and New York, and will bring the total number of MSAs in the competitive bidding program to 80.

The second round of the Medicare DMEPOS Competitive Bidding program also includes eight of the top DMEPOS product categories, including oxygen supplies and equipment, standard power wheel-chairs, scooters and related accessories, complex rehabilitative power wheelchairs and related accessories, enteral nutrients (feeding tubes), equipment and supplies, CPAP devices (usually prescribed to treat sleep apnea) and respiratory-assistance devices, hospital beds and related accessories, negative pressure wound therapy pumps and related supplies and walkers.

DME retailers and suppliers will need to meet quality standards established by CMS and be accredited by one of 10 organizations chosen by Medicare. CMS anticipates beginning the pre-bidding activities of the second phase of the program in spring 2008.

The final deadline for all suppliers to obtain an initial accreditation is Sept. 30, 2009. However, suppliers that want to participate in this second phase of the competitive bidding program will have to be accredited well in advance of that deadline to be awarded a contract with CMS, the agency stated.

“I cannot stress enough the importance for all Part B DMEPOS suppliers to apply for accreditation early, and not wait until Sept. 30, 2009,” cautioned Kerry Weems, CMS acting administrator. “Suppliers considering participating in the second phase of the competitive bidding program should apply for accreditation immediately,” he said.

“Competitive bidding means that Medicare beneficiaries will have access to these products at substantially lower costs,” Weems said. “Since all successful bidders will be required to meet quality standards and be accredited by Medicare, people with Medicare in these 70 new areas can be assured of access, low prices and high quality. Through this accreditation process, our beneficiaries are also provided another layer of protection from fraud.”

Under the competitive bidding program, retailers that wish to offer durable medical equipment—including walkers, automated wheelchairs and other assisted-living devices—and services to people with Medicare will have to submit bids to CMS, indicating the prices at which they are willing to supply these items to beneficiaries.

Currently Medicare—and beneficiaries—pay for items based on a fee schedule that, in general, is based on the average payments Medicare has paid for DMEPOS items in the past. Although the fee schedule is updated annually, CMS believes it is not representative of the true market prices of these items and services. Most beneficiaries pay 20 percent of the total cost for these items and services, and should expect to see savings from this program because when the total cost decreases, beneficiaries’ co-insurance also decreases.

Once the competitive bidding program is fully implemented nationally, it is expected to save beneficiaries and Medicare $1 billion annually, CMS stated.

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