HEALTH

Drug offerings expand under Merck Helps programs

BY Alaric DeArment

WHITEHOUSE STATION, N.J. Merck is expanding its patient assistance program, the drug maker said Wednesday.

Merck announced an expansion of the number of drugs it offers under its Merck Helps programs, including the Merck Patient Assistant program, the Merck Vaccine Patient Assistance program, the ACT program for cancer and hepatitis C drugs, and the SUPPORT program for HIV and AIDS drugs. The program provides medicines and vaccines free of charge to eligible patients, primarily the uninsured, who make up to 400% of the federal poverty level and can’t afford Merck drugs without assistance.

 

“Merck has historically recognized the critical need for people to have access to the prescription medicines and vaccines they require, even if they lose their insurance,” Merck EVP and chief medical officer Michael Rosenblatt said. “Our patient assistance programs now provide access to even more medicines for chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure, allowing us to reach more people in need.”

 

 

Merck also said that its philanthropic arm, the Merck Company Foundation, made a grant to NeedyMeds, a nonprofit group that helps people who can’t afford medicines or healthcare costs by making information about assistance programs available. NeedyMeds plans to use the grant to translate its website into Spanish.

 

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Rite Aid adds mobile text alerts option for Rx reminders

BY Michael Johnsen

CAMP HILL, Pa. Rite Aid on Tuesday added automatic mobile text alerts to its opted-in contact options to notify patients when their prescriptions are ready, and for refill and pickup reminders. Patients now have the option to receive such messages by text, e-mail or automated phone call.

Customers who “opt in” to the pharmacy alerts system by signing up for the service online also can be notified if there are any issues encountered after they’ve dropped off their prescription.

“This new service greatly enhances our ability to communicate with our patients while using the communication methods they prefer,” stated Robert Thompson, Rite Aid EVP pharmacy. “In addition to convenience, these alerts also help our patients stay current with their prescriptions and improve patient compliance in taking medications as prescribed.”

To receive alerts, patients must have an online MyRiteAid.com account and complete the MyPharmacy online profile.

The addition of text messaging to Rite Aid’s pharmacy alerts program is powered by Sybase 365, the company noted. “According to the Sybase 365 Global Consumer Acceptance and Usage Report released earlier this year, the study found that consumers are looking for more from their phones, with 70% reporting interest in additional mobile services,” said Marty Beard, Sybase 365 president.

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NCPA to HHS: Pharmacists are allies in health-reform shift to preventive care

BY Jim Frederick

ALEXANDRIA, Va. The reformed U.S. healthcare system could unleash a surge in patient demand for preventive care services, and community pharmacists should be part of any plan to meet that demand, the independent pharmacy lobby told Obama administration health officials.

That message came from the National Community Pharmacists Association in comments recently submitted to the Department of Health and Human Services. The group urged the officials implementing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to make full use of community pharmacists in the nation’s increasing reliance on preventive care — particularly if the health-reform law encourages patients to take advantage of low-cost health-and-wellness services provided through federally funded programs.

The NCPA weighed in after HHS issued a proposed interim final rule on the implementation of the massive health-reform act. The agency is recommending that participating health plans and insurers waive patient co-pays for certain recommended preventive services and vaccines.

“Examples of preventative services commonly available at community pharmacies include blood pressure and cholesterol screening, tobacco cessation and obesity-related counseling and intervention,” the NCPA noted. “The HHS requirement would apply to private, nongrandfathered group health plans and health insurance issuers offering group or individual health insurance coverage through the health insurance exchanges scheduled to take effect in 2014.”

The independent pharmacy group is asking HHS to make two adjustments to its proposed rule. One, the NCPA told the agency, is to “modify the rule to allow patients to receive certain preventative services from any qualified provider [including community pharmacies] without incurring a co-payment.” The group also urged HHS to “actively promote a more collaborative approach to healthcare services by encouraging health plans to enlist the services of allied healthcare providers, such as pharmacists, to help provide community-based preventative care services to plan enrollees.”

An initial investment in preventative care services, the NCPA noted in its comments, “can reap many downstream benefits, including demonstrable improvement in patient care outcomes, a reduction in hospital re-admissions and ultimately savings due to lower healthcare costs.”

“Just as the practice of medicine has undergone a change in focus from treatment of disease states to preventative care, pharmacy has gone from an emphasis on medication dispensing to one of effective medication use and achieving optimal patient outcomes,” the group told HHS officials.

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