Kathleen Sebelius cites pharmacists' importance as Rite Aid CEO introduces Obamacare resource program

HHS secretary, Sen. Menendez, Standley appear at Hoboken, N.J., event

HOBOKEN, N.J. — Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., joined Rite Aid chairman and CEO John Standley Monday as he announced the retail pharmacy chain's plan to place insurance agents at stores around the country to educate customers about Obamacare and help them enroll in plans.

As DSN reported Monday morning, starting Oct. 1, the chain will have agents at nearly 2,000 stores in most of the markets the chain serves — with exception to Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont, where such programs are prohibited under state laws — to consult with patients about Obamacare, officially known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The chain has about 4,600 stores in total.

The agents will work independently and on commission as part of a larger network of agents. Consultations will take place at various parts of the store, usually near the entrance.

Asked about potential political implications of the program, considering the controversy over the healthcare reform law, Standley said, "It's really about our patients and customers," noting that he saw the company's duty as one of providing information about an existing law rather than as a political organization.

Talking about the law and expressing appreciation for Rite Aid's push to educate the public about it through the new program, Sebelius spoke of pharmacists' importance to healthcare reform. "Often, a pharmacist is the on-the-ground health provider that people see the most and know the best," she said, also saying that families across the country "look to their pharmacist" as honest sources of healthcare information.

For pharmacists themselves, the law is important because it will help more patients afford the medications they need. The store's pharmacist-manager, Victor Sun, cited the frustration he often felt when patients failed to fill their prescriptions because they couldn't afford it.

Menendez, who discussed the New Jersey health insurance marketplace, praised Rite Aid for its role in Hurricane Sandy, during which the state suffered disproportionate damage, particularly along its coastline.

"It's because of the generosity of companies like Rite Aid that New Jersey has been able to come such a long way," Menendez said.

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