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ObamaCare in Aisle 8: Prez pitches reform at Kroger

BY Jim Frederick

BRISTOL, Va. —President Obama took his healthcare reform message directly to voters July 29 with a high-profile appearance and speech at a Kroger supermarket here.

Obama held a town hall meeting packed with Kroger employees and local citizens to explain in detail his healthcare proposal, and in particular the reason for a public health plan option to compete with privately funded, employer-based insurance plans. Outside, some 200 protestors spoke against government-sponsored health care.

Drawing laughter at several points from an enthusiastic and supportive crowd inside the store, the president made prepared remarks about the funding crisis driving health costs to “unsustainable” levels and the need to create a federally-backed health option to compete in an open healthcare marketplace, lower health costs and give Americans additional choices for health coverage. He also took questions from listeners concerned about rising drug costs and out-of-pocket health expenses.

“The fact of the matter is that health care is going up so fast that I hear from small businesses and large businesses alike that say it’s unsustainable. Our costs are going up 20% a year or 30% a year just on healthcare costs,” said the president. “So what happens? Over time, either employers start pushing more costs onto their employees in the form of higher premiums and higher deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs, or they just stop providing health insurance altogether.”

“That’s why, even if you’ve got health insurance, you’ve got a stake in making sure that we can turn this system around,” he added. “We spend $6,000 more per person on health care in this country than any other nation on Earth. We’re not getting a good deal for the amount of money that we’re spending.”

With health reform, said the president, “insurance companies will have to abide by a rule that says they can’t drop you just because of a pre-existing condition. That will give you some security, especially in a tough economic situation.”

“Part of the reason that we’re doing this town hall here at Kroger,” Obama added, “is because Kroger provides health insurance to its associates, as many as it can, and that is significantly different than a lot of companies out there who aren’t providing health insurance for their employees.”

Among those asking questions at the event was Autumn Wells, who described herself as an independent pharmacist. She expressed concern for many of her older patients hit with out-of-pocket expenses when their Medicare Part D coverage hits the so-called “donut hole,” where coverage runs out until medication expenses run high enough to trigger the plan’s catastrophic coverage provision.

Responding that he was “glad to know that there are still some independent pharmacists out here,” Obama told Wells, “Any plan that we have has to have prescription drugs as part of it, because that’s a bigger and bigger part of health care today, and the deal that we need to strike with the drug companies is, look, you’re now going to have a whole bunch of new consumers. You’ve got to cut a better deal for those customers so that they’re not three months or six months into the year, suddenly having used up their entire benefit, they can’t afford out-of-pocket costs, and they just suffer until they can get back and a new year starts.”

The president acknowledged that his proposal would trigger “a battle with the drug companies.” However, he added, “to their credit, they’ve been willing to negotiate, but let’s face it: They like making a profit. And the prescription drug plan as currently constituted has been very profitable for them. And…there will be some tough negotiations.”

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Washington, Mo., considers repealing recently passed PSE legislation

BY DSN STAFF

NEW YORK The objective here is closing down clandestine methamphetamine labs. The question is: Who is going to bear the cost? And the answer, ultimately, is the consumer.

It seems that one of the primary reasons behind legislation like this, which is also under consideration by the California state legislature as well as several local municipalities throughout Missouri, is cost shifting.

Indeed, one solution that would prevent the practice of “smurfing,” a practice whereby meth addicts exceed their legal purchase limits in pseudoephedrine products by buying across several nearby pharmacies, is electronic logbooking. By granting access to PSE logbooks to law enforcement in real time, law enforcement officers would not only be made aware of a “smurfer” as they were driving between pharmacies, but would also identify who that smurfer was and where they lived.

Setting up that comprehensive electronic logbooking system requires resources, however. State coffers have traditionally been tapped for that purpose, and at least in the case of California, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association has offered to help defray that cost. In the case of Missouri, more than $500,000 has already been earmarked for the implementation of an electronic logbooking system at the state level.

However,  a not-as-much-talked-about cost is also borne by law enforcement, as pointed out by Franklin County Sgt. Jason Grellner in Missouri. After all, it requires additional resources to actually apprehend and prosecute those criminals, he suggested. And a system that better defines who those criminals may be, by his estimation, could cost the state as much as $350,000 per criminal per year.

Therefore, Grellner argues, it’s a fiscal responsibility to take PSE off the OTC market altogether, and require a prescription for the popular decongestant.

That, in a nutshell, is cost-shifting. Because reverse switching PSE translates into less revenue for retailers (and consequently less taxable revenue, as well) for those consumers who choose to forego PSE-provided relief, and for those who don’t, it’s a greater healthcare cost because now consumers have to schedule an appointment with their primary care practitioner and pay the co-pay for that doctor’s visit on top of the cost of the PSE product.

Regardless of how the consumer ultimately pays for the elimination of meth labs — whether through increased taxes to cover escalating law enforcement budgets or through increased personal healthcare costs — there is another argument to be made here. Switching PSE to prescription-only status may result in fewer meth labs busted, but it’s not going to do anything about those meth addicts still on the street. Necessity is the mother of invention, and for addicts, that simply means sourcing their meth from somewhere else.

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