HEALTH

Walmart, Humana roll out low-cost Rx plan in move that could roil Medicare market

BY Jim Frederick

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT Launching a pre-emptive campaign to capture a major share of the Medicare prescription market, Walmart and Humana have unveiled a boldly conceived, co-branded Medicare Part D prescription drug plan that offers steeply discounted premiums and co-payments.

(THE NEWS: Walmart, Humana unveil new Medicare Part D prescription drug offering. For the full story, click here)

The plan, announced to reporters late Thursday under strict embargo agreements, is priced low enough for cash-strapped seniors that it could have the kind of dramatic impact on the pharmaceutical market that Walmart had when it rolled out its $4 generic drug pricing four years ago.

The Humana Walmart-Preferred Rx Plan offers one low national monthly plan premium of $14.80. That’s less than half the average national monthly premium set by prescription drug plans serving Part D, Walmart and Humana officials asserted, and is the lowest national plan premium in 2011 for a stand-alone Medicare Part D plan premium offered in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Given the current state of the economy, said John Agwunobi, president of Walmart’s health and wellness division, “this couldn’t be more timely.” It will give nearly 18 million Americans relying on Medicare for their prescriptions an affordable alternative, he added. “We know every dollar counts, especially when you live on a fixed income. We believe no one should have to choose between buying their groceries or their medications. We are committed to doing everything we can to ensure seniors have access to the medications they need at a price they can afford,” Agwunobi said.

Savings for seniors aside, the Walmart-Humana PDP may shift a considerable chunk of the Medicare Part D prescription market to the world’s largest retailer and its more than 4,000 pharmacies. The plan gives preferred status to Walmart’s own pharmacies, so Medicare beneficiaries who enroll in the plan will get low co-payments when they fill their prescriptions at a Walmart, Neighborhood Market or Sam’s Club pharmacy. In-store co-payments for those plan members will start as low as $2 for generic prescriptions at the company’s own pharmacies.

“This new co-branded prescription drug plan,” the two companies asserted in a joint statement, “can save a typical Medicare Part D beneficiary who enrolls in the Humana Walmart-Preferred Rx Plan an estimated average of more than $450 in 2011 on plan premiums, prescription medication co-payments and cost-shares, when compared with the average total costs for a Part D prescription drug plan in 2010.”

The rollout of the new plan, Agwunobi acknowledged late Thursday, “is intended to grow out business.” It also cements a partnership with Humana that dates back to the inception of the Medicare Part D program in early 2006, when the two firms linked up to educate seniors about their options under Part D and provide pharmacy services through a co-branded prescription insurance card.

Under terms of the original agreement, Humana administered a Walmart drug benefit network and provided seniors guidance about the Part D program at kiosks in most Walmart, Sam’s Club and Neighborhood Market stores. But with the launch of the co-branded, discount PDP program, Agwunobi said, “we have taken our relationship to a new level.”

Humana, which markets other Part D plans of its own at considerably higher premium rates, also stands to gain a bigger share of the Medicare drug market. Plan members who fill their scripts via Humana’s RightSource home-delivery prescription service may be able to waive co-payments entirely for some generics, according to William Fleming, VP pharmacy solutions at Humana. “One of the primary goals of healthcare reform is to make health coverage more affordable –– and that’s what we’re doing with the introduction of this low-cost Medicare Part D plan,” Fleming said. “People are more likely to take the medications prescribed for them when they can afford those medications.”

The two companies are offering information on the plan beginning today through both companies’ websites and other media, and Humana has brought back its information kiosks, which have been set up in some 3,000 Walmart stores across the country. Humana Walmart-Preferred Rx Plan will be signing up seniors when annual enrollment for Medicare plans begins Nov. 15.

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Garden of Life introduces Vitamin Code Kids

BY Allison Cerra

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. Garden of Life has developed a chewable whole food multivitamin for kids that provides them with essential nutrients and minerals.

Vitamin Code Kids are cherry-berry chewables that contain 22 organically grown fruits and veggies to provide immune support, digestive health, support for growing bones, mental and physical energy, and eye health, Garden of Life said.

"Unfortunately, most kids’ multivitamins fall short of the nutritional standards parents set for their children. However, with this whole food multivitamin, I feel that all of the nutritional bases for kids are covered," said Jordan Rubin, Garden of Life’s founder and CEO. "With Vitamin Code Kids, there’s a 100% whole food multivitamin that parents can offer their kids with confidence because it will nourish the body and deliver nutrients as nature intended."

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Drug Store News once again hosts annual Industry Issues Summit, Diabetes Roundtable

BY Antoinette Alexander

NEW YORK Drug Store News is presenting in November in New York its 12th annual Industry Issues Summit and eighth annual Diabetes Roundtable — a must-attend event that attracts leading industry players and will feature a special celebrity speaker.

This year’s Industry Issues Summit will be held Nov. 30 at the New York Athletic Club, which is located just a stone’s throw away from Central Park. Over the years, the Industry Issues Summit has become a critical industry event, and this year’s gathering will prove to be especially important in light of healthcare reform, the economy and its impact on consumer shopping behavior, and retail pharmacies increasingly taking a proactive role on the frontlines of U.S. health care.

Larry Kudlow, host of CNBC’s “The Kudlow Report,” will be the keynote speaker. Kudlow, who for many years served as chief economist for a number of Wall Street firms, will be presenting “Never Sell America Short: Free-Market Capitalism and the American Economy.” Kudlow is a nationally syndicated columnist and also hosts his own blog. He is a contributing editor of National Review magazine, as well as a columnist and economics editor for National Review Online. He is the author of “American Abundance: The New Economic and Moral Prosperity,” published by Forbes in January 1998. He also serves as CEO of Kudlow & Co., an economic research firm.

“This one-day event will provide unprecedented access to a multiple list of leading-edge retailers from many formats that will enable sponsors a unique opportunity to share in the dialogue about retailer-supplier best practices, alignment strategies and industry growth opportunities. Drug Store News is also pleased to make our Industry Issues Summit and Diabetes Roundtable an annual event that is held every year during ‘NACDS Week’ in New York City, which times nicely with several key committee meetings and highlights with the NACDS Foundation Dinner,” said Wayne Bennett, publisher of The Drug Store News Group.

Retail panelists for this year’s Issues Summit will include top executives from H-E-B, Costco, Max-Wellness, Rite Aid, Wegmans, Ulta Beauty, Walgreens, Sam’s Club and Ace Hardware.

Retail panelists for the Diabetes Roundtable include top executives from McKesson’s Health Mart, Wegmans, H-E-B, Giant Eagle, AmerisourceBergen, Rite Aid, Kerr Drug and Cardinal Health.

Current sponsors include Pacific World, Takeda, Pharmavite, TABS, Catalina Marketing, Alberto Culver and Nipro Diagnostics.

To register, visit DSNIndustryIssues.com. For more information on sponsoring the Issues Summit and/or Diabetes Roundtable, contact Wayne Bennett at wbennett@drugstorenews.com or call (212) 756-5157.

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