HEALTH

GNC to sell branded retail, food-service equipment

BY Allison Cerra

LOS ANGELES General Nutrition Centers has inked a deal to sell its retail and food-service equipment with the help of IMG Licensing and The Legacy Cos.

IMG’s licensing agreement for GNC with The Legacy Cos. will give way to the creation of GNC-branded products, such as blenders and juicers, which will be distributed in the company’s stores. The products will retail from $150 to $400, IMG said.

The agreement will run through 2015.

“GNC has set the standard as an industry leader in the nutritional supplement business and is truly dedicated to helping its customers improve health and quality of life. Teaming up with The Legacy Cos. to expand its brand and create this new and exciting product line will continue to solidify GNC’s brand and its commitment to providing exceptional products and services to consumers,” said Tim Rothwell, IMG EVP and co-managing director of worldwide licensing.

Added GNC EVP Tom Dowd, “GNC is very excited to partner with a high-quality manufacturer that can produce a variety of products that complement the healthy lifestyle of our customers.”

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Fresh & Easy develops line for kids

BY Allison Cerra

SAN DIEGO Fresh & Easy is promoting its new line of products aimed at childhood nutrition.

The line, fresh&easy Goodness, is made using such wholesome, natural foods as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, as well as other foods that are good sources of vitamins and minerals. Fresh&easy Goodness products also contain no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives, no added trans fats and no high-fructose corn syrup.

"We fundamentally believe every family deserves access to fresh, wholesome food at affordable prices," said Fresh & Easy CEO Tim Mason. "Everything we do derives from listening to our customers, and one thing we’ve heard consistently from parents is that they are looking for ways to feed their children high-quality, nutritious foods without stretching their budgets. Fresh&easy Goodness for kids offers an affordable and convenient solution for busy parents that won’t break the bank."

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Efforts to combat Medicare fraud draw mixed signals from indies, PBMs

BY Jim Frederick

WASHINGTON The independent pharmacy and pharmacy benefit management industries both praised new efforts by Congress and the Obama administration to end the fraudulent and abusive billing practices that plague Medicare and Medicaid and cost U.S. taxpayers tens of billions of dollars. But their recommendations for combating the problem are as different as their approaches to the pharmaceutical market.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services proposed new regulations to help prevent what the agency said is $55 billion in annual improper payments to providers and health plans. In a related development, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health is looking at ways to attack the problem, and held a hearing Thursday titled, “Cutting Fraud, Waste and Abuse in Medicare and Medicaid.”

The National Community Pharmacists Association weighed in with a statement to the House panel that accused the pharmacy benefit management industry of responsibility for much of the abuse, which the group attributed to a “past record of alleged systematic chicanery.”

In its statement, the independent pharmacy lobby reminded lawmakers of numerous allegations of fraud by major PBMs, as well as “misrepresentation to plans, patients and providers; improper therapeutic solutions; unjust enrichment through secret kickback schemes; and failure to meet ethical and safety standards.” The group urged Congress to pass legislation “to rein in the waste being generated by the business practices of pharmacy benefit managers under Medicare and Medicaid,” and to increase the transparency of PBM audit practices.

Not surprisingly, the response from the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, the main PBM industry advocacy group, was markedly different. Responding to new proposed regulations from CMS to combat fraud and abuse, PCMA president and CEO Mark Merritt said the government’s focus should be on preventing abuse rather than on pursuing wrongdoers after the fact for fraudulent billing practices. “Pharmacy benefit managers agree that prevention, not ‘pay and chase,’ is the key to fighting fraud,” Merritt noted. “Unfortunately, some public policies undermine the fight against fraud by requiring payers to include pharmacies in their networks that have been banned from federal programs.”

Merritt also reiterated PCMA’s call for legislation to eliminate legislative “prompt-pay” requirements that force pharmacy benefit plans to quickly pay prescription claims, raising again a major source of friction between the PBM and retail pharmacy industries. Policies that require payers to “accelerate payments,” PCMA’s leader charged, leave “less time to detect and prevent fraudulent Medicare claims before payments are made.”

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