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Lawmakers’ advocacy forges new ties with industry

BY DSN STAFF

WASHINGTON —Formalizing a growing bond between law-makers and independent and chain drug store operators, a group of community pharmacy’s most reliable supporters in Congress have formed a new, bipartisan task force to spearhead the interests of community pharmacies and the patients they serve.

The new group, called the Congressional Community Pharmacy Coalition, is charged with preserving patient access to community pharmacies, according to the National Community Pharmacists Association, “by restoring fairness and pragmatism to a healthcare system that devalues these small business owners who often reside in under-served rural and urban communities.” NCPA, for its part, was actively involved in the coalition’s formation.

The coalition is centered in the House of Representatives. Serving as its co-chairs are four members of Congress who often voice support for pharmacy’s interests: Reps. Marion Berry, D-Ark., Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, R-Wash., Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y. A total of 27 other House members agreed to sign on as inaugural members.

Coalition lawmakers are pursuing several bills in the 110th Congress to ease the burdens imposed on pharmacy retailers by slow payments for Medicare Part D prescriptions, a shift in Medicaid generic prescription payments to a new, lower reimbursement formula and other threats. Among the bills coalition leaders have introduced or co-sponsored are H.R.1474, the Fair and Speedy Treatment of Medicare Prescription Drug Act; H.R.3140, the Saving Our Community Pharmacies Act; and H.R.971, the Community Pharmacy Fairness Act.

“The Congressional Community Pharmacy Coalition has the simple goal of treating community pharmacies with the type of respect they deserve,” Moran said. “That goal will be met by passing bills such as H.R. 3140, which establishes a reimbursement benchmark that actually reflects pharmacy acquisition cost for Medicaid generic prescription drugs. The clock is ticking because in a few months the reimbursement system will cause pharmacy doors to close by gutting those payments to an economically unsustainable level.”

Moran joined with Berry, McMorris-Rodgers and Weiner to announce the new advocacy group at a teleconference press briefing hosted by NCPA Sept. 27. Among the issues they addressed: the slow reimbursement of Medicare Part D claims; the pending cut in Medicaid generic prescription drug reimbursement and the inability to negotiate reasonable contracts with pharmacy benefit managers.

“The deck is stacked against community pharmacies,” Weiner said. “This coalition wants to level the playing field for our neighborhood pharmacists with the big chains of the world by providing prompt payment under Medicare Part D, a fair reimbursement rate under Medicaid and better negotiating rights for our essential community pharmacies.”

“The reality is that many patients will suffer if Congress doesn’t step up to create a reasonable business environment for community pharmacies to operate in,” said McMorris Rodgers. “That’s why I view the Congressional Community Pharmacy Coalition as being more than a legislative group dedicated to advancing common-sense small business measures, but as championing the interests of their patients in communities across the country who are seeing their access to these trusted health-care professionals threatened.”

NCPA executive vice president and chief executive officer Bruce Roberts praised the group’s formation. “The cavalry has arrived to restore the way community pharmacies ought to be treated,” he said. “The Congressional Community Pharmacy Coalition has put partisanship aside to recognize that these small business owners are a critical cog in the wheel that keeps the American people healthy and our economy vibrant.”

The coalition’s other members include Reps. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., Michael Arcuri, DN.Y., Roy Blunt, R-Mo., John Boozman, R-Ark., Chris Carney, D-Pa., Geoff Davis, R-Ky., Lincoln Davis, D-Tenn., Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, Thelma Drake, R-Va., Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., Walter Jones, R-N.C., Nick Lampson, D-Texas, Frank LoBiondo, RN.J., Charlie Melancon, D-La., Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas, Ciro Rodriguez, D-Texas, Mike Ross, D-Ark., Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., Peter Sessions, R-Texas, Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., Greg Walden, R-Ore., Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Charles Wilson, D-Ohio.

In a related move just days prior to the formation of the new group, more than 70 executives and representatives from U.S. pharmacy companies staged a “fly-in” into the nation’s capitol to appeal directly to members of Congress for help in dealing with new Medicaid reimbursement rules and other issues. The event was staged jointly by NCPA, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and the Food Marketing Institute.

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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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