Your very own pharmacist just a click (and consult) away
Consumers are working more, playing more, shopping more and learning more online than ever before. So the click-and-consult services that Rite Aid has made available to its wellness+ members not only represent today’s cutting edge, but also offer a peek into how consumers may interact with their healthcare teams tomorrow.
“Patients take a great deal of interest in being able to have a conversation with their pharmacist,” said Robert Thompson, Rite Aid EVP pharmacy. “The online chat is just another vehicle by which a patient might be able to have a discussion with a Rite Aid pharmacist,” he said. And that’s important, Thompson added, because each means of communication holds relevance for different groups of the population. And whether a patient prefers one-on-one consultations, round-the-clock telephone access—an 800 number for wellness+ members to consult a Rite Aid pharmacist has been up and running since that program’s inception in April—or this new online portal, Rite Aid has made itself available to its patients no matter a patient’s personal consultation preference. “For us, it’s all about providing a service that will enhance the ability of patients to communicate with a pharmacist,” Thompson added.
As for the service, wellness+ members can avail themselves of a pharmacist consultation at any time, day or night, either online or in select stores. “The pharmacists that staff our clinical call center are all PharmDs,” Thompson noted. “And many of them have received additional forms of clinical training. Our clinical call center does a variety of clinical programs—including supporting chat—that are really focused on compliance initiatives. They also provide clinical support for our own pharmacists internally.”
Rite Aid’s team of clinical pharmacists will be available to counsel patients on such issues as potential drug-drug interactions between their prescription therapies and their nonprescription remedies, or what foods and drinks may interfere with the effectiveness of their therapies. The clinical pharmacists also will be prepared to counsel on general health questions, such as how to control high blood pressure or lower cholesterol; how to tell the difference between a cold and the flu; ways to help manage diabetes; how to deal with insomnia; and questions about vaccinations.
Sorry, FTC: ‘Pay-for-delay’ isn’t going away
WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT This week’s decision by the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals could make political efforts to ban generic-branded patent settlements a lot more difficult.
(THE NEWS: Appeals court upholds decision to OK ‘pay-for-delay’ deals. For the full story, click here)
The Federal Trade Commission in particular, not to mention some members of Congress like Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., has fought hard against so-called “pay-for-delay” settlements between branded and generic drug companies, contending that they delay patients’ access to generic drugs and cost consumers billions of dollars every year.
The concerns of opponents are understandable. Because generic and branded drug makers are supposed to be competitors, what seem on the surface like sweetheart deals must look positively Faustian to many people. But the judges in the appeals court affirmed that whatever their appearance, patent settlements don’t violate antitrust laws.
And the facts seem to support that decision. According to a report released in January by RBC Capital Markets, generic drug companies prevailed in 76% of cases that included settlements, but only in 48% of cases that went to trial. Meanwhile, according to a report released the same month by securities and investment banking firm Jefferies & Co., on average, patent settlements result in generic launch three years before patent expiration. Legally, a generic drug company must launch its version of a drug before or at the time of patent expiration.
While patent settlements often involve some type of monetary transaction, in many cases, the “pay” is in the form of a promise by the branded drug company not to launch an authorized generic, which is the branded drug sold under its generic name at a lower price. Under the Hatch-Waxman Act, the first generic drug maker to launch a knockoff of a branded drug is entitled to six months in which to compete directly with the branded version, but the authorized generic allows the branded drug maker to undercut the generic drug maker by marketing a supposedly “generic” version of its own.
Authorized generics have seen a bit of a pickup as well, and more activity on that front can be expected. On Tuesday, Greenstone, the generics arm of Pfizer, announced that it would create a new business called the Authorized Generics Alliance in order to market authorized generics under the Greenstone label.
Medicaid plans to end onerous AMP rules
WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT It’s about time.
(THE NEWS: NACDS, NCPA in joint statement praise CMS’ move to withdraw provisions of AMP rule currently blocked by injunction. For the full story, click here)
The White House, or more specifically the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ division of Health and Human Services, announced in recent days that it plans at last to scrap its controversial and burdensome pricing policies for generic drugs bought by retail pharmacies to dispense to Medicaid patients. If CMS’ newly proposed rule goes through, it will mean the end of the current, much-disputed provisions that define the average manufacturer price of Medicaid me-too medicines.
The proposed rule, to quote the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, calls for “the withdrawal of existing provisions that define AMP, that determine the calculation of federal upper limits [FULs], and that define ‘multiple source drug.’”
As currently defined, Medicaid’s payment model for reimbursing pharmacists to dispense generics is based on a flawed formula for determining what retail pharmacies pay for those medicines, as determined by a set of controversial market metrics.
The current AMP policy almost is a guarantee that retail pharmacies would lose money on nearly every Medicaid generic prescription they dispense. It’s only a temporary court injunction that has thus far kept that new formula from being imposed.
Thus, CMS’ turnabout marks a real victory for the chain and independent pharmacy lobby, which has bitterly contested the AMP reimbursement formula since it was made policy by the Bush administration more than three years ago. But the plan to withdraw the current AMP model doesn’t end the long battle by pharmacy for a fair payment policy for dispensing generic drugs to Medicaid beneficiaries.
What the pharmacy industry –– and the U.S. healthcare system itself, for that matter –– need is a permanent solution to the Medicaid reimbursement mess. And that solution can only be achieved by congressional action and enactment of a new law governing Medicaid.
The 2010 health-reform law goes part way toward that solution, by holding the line on pharmacy cuts and setting the FULs on Medicaid prescription payments at no less than 175% of cost. It also includes what NACDS president and CEO Steve Anderson calls “a much-improved definition and calculation method for AMP” that will “better approximate pharmacies’ costs for purchasing generic drugs.”
Anderson said the injunction lawsuit filed in 2007 by NACDS and its independent pharmacy counterpart, the National Community Pharmacists Association, has saved pharmacy more than $5.3 billion in cuts since a federal court blocked the imposition of the new AMP formula in January 2008. It also may have prevented the closing of more than 11,000 community pharmacies that otherwise would have been forced to dispense Medicaid scripts at a loss or stop serving lower-income patients.
“When we filed the lawsuit in 2007, we knew that patient care was at stake,” Anderson asserted.
The bottom line is that the White House and Congress need to establish a federal payment system that rewards –– rather than penalizes –– pharmacies for dispensing lower-cost generics that provide the same safety and efficacy profiles as higher-cost pioneer medicines. Such a permanent fix would be a win both for the pharmacy industry and the American taxpayer, by saving tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars over the long term in federal health costs.