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Walgreens releases first Flu Index of 2015-16 season

BY David Salazar

DEERFIELD, Ill. — Walgreens on Thursday released its Flu Index — the first one of the 2015-16 flu season — covering the week of Nov. 29. The Index uses data for antiviral medications for treating the flu filled every week and lists the top markets and states by flu activity, as well as the states and markets with the most gains in flu activity. 

“With the ability to provide actionable information in a quick and timely manner, and leveraging prescription data that can be a telling indicator of activity, we’re empowering everyone to be informed about flu in their community,” Walgreens president of pharmacy and retail operations Richard Ashworth said. “The Flu Index has become a powerful and credible tool that has garnered national attention, while also helping health officials at the most local level to keep their communities healthy throughout the season.” 

The 10 markets with the most flu activity for the week of Nov. 29 were:

  1. Harlingen-Weslaco-Brownsville-McAllen, Texas
  2. Jackson, Miss.
  3. Miami-Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
  4. Knoxville, Tenn.
  5. Oklahoma City, Okla.
  6. Greensboro-High Point-Winston Salem, N.C.
  7. Tyler-Longview (Lufkin & Nacodoches), Texas
  8. El Paso, Texas (Las Cruces, N.M.)
  9. Houston, Texas
  10. Lexington, Ky.

And the 10 states with the most flu activity were

  1. Mississippi
  2. Oklahoma
  3. Texas
  4. Kentucky
  5. Tennessee
  6. Alabama
  7. Louisiana
  8. Hawaii
  9. Florida
  10. Arkansas

The markets that saw the most gains in flu activity were: 

  1. Jackson, Miss.
  2. Myrtle Beach-Florence, S.C.
  3. Huntsville – Decatur (Florence), Ala.
  4. Bakersfield, Calif.
  5. Dayton, Ohio
  6. Tri-Cities, Tenn. – Va.
  7. Portland – Auburn, Maine
  8. Lexington, Ky.
  9. Lansing, Mich.
  10. Roanoke – Lynchburg, Va. 

And the states with the most gains in activity were:

  1. Maine
  2. Wyoming
  3. Oregon
  4. West Virginia
  5. Virginia
  6. Connecticut
  7. Washington
  8. Massachusetts
  9. Mississippi
  10. Minnesota

The Flu Index does not include areas where Walgreens has fewer than 10 locations and is not meant  measure severity or levels of flu activity, but rather incidence. 

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CMS: National health spending grew 5.3% in 2014

BY David Salazar

BETHESDA, Md. — The United States spent 17.5 percent of its Gross Domestic Product — $3 trillion — on health care in 2014, according to analysis for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services by its Office of the Actuary. Spending grew at a rate of 5.3% — a marked increase over the 2.9% growth seen in 2013, and an increase of the past five years, which averaged 3.7% growth.

“Two main factors were responsible for health spending growth in 2014—coverage expansion associated with the Affordable Care Act and faster growth in prescription drug spending,” Office of the Actuary accountant Anne B. Martin said. “However, it is unknown how these drivers of health care spending will affect trends over the next few years as the new health insurance landscape continues to evolve.”

In 2014, the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid eligibility expansion kicked in, leading to an 11.7% spending growth from the government that brought the government’s share of healthcare spending to 28% in 2014, up from 26% in 2013. Medicaid expenditures rose 11% to $495.8 billion as a result, making up 16% of national health spending. Medicare spending grew by 5.5% — higher than the 3% growth seen in 2013 — to reach $618.7 billion. The analysis said that the Medicare spending growth was driven by faster growth in spending on prescription drugs, clinical and physician services, net cost of insurance and government administration. Private health insurance spending rose 4.4% to $991 billion

When it comes to goods and services, spending on retail prescription drugs hit $297.7 billion in 2014, a 12.2% increase — a large difference from 2013’s 2.4% increase and the largest rise in spending since 2002. In line with a trend in the pharmaceutical market, spending on prescription drugs was largely driven by specialty medication, particularly hepatitis C treatments, which on their own contributed $11.3 billion in new spending.

Beyond prescription drugs, spending on physician and clinical services rose 4.6% to hit $603.7 billion. Medicaid physician and clinical services spending rose 22.8% in 2014, more than twice the growth seen in 2013, which the analysis again attributes to expanded Medicaid enrollment. Finally, hospital spending was at $91.8 billion in 2014 — a 4.1% rise the analysis attributes to coverage expansion that led to more use and intensity of hospital services. 

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American Express Serve adds Dollar General, Rite Aid as card reload providers

BY David Salazar

NEW YORK — American Express Serve announced this week that it and Rite Aid and Dollar General had joined forces to allow American Express Serve account holders to add money to their cards at the retailers’ locations around the country. The two companies join CVS/pharmacy, Family Dollar, Family Dollar, Walmart and 7-Eleven as places where customers can do a Free Cash Reload of their cards. 
 
“We are thrilled to add Dollar General and Rite Aid to our Free Cash Reload network, giving Account holders even more places to add cash at convenient locations in their communities,” American Express’ enterprise growth chief commercial officer Stefan Happ said. “We know our account holders frequently add cash to their Accounts in order to pay bills and shop online, and we’re pleased to give them easier access to more free cash loading locations where they’re already shopping for everyday items.”
 
The money a customer adds to their card at the register can be used immediately, and they can use it to make purchases, pay bills or transfer money to friends with Serve accounts. 
 
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