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Duracell’s new Holiday Insurance Program makes it easier on the parents

BY Allison Cerra

BETHEL, Conn. — Battery brand Duracell has launched a new program that is designed to help make the holidays a little less stressful for parents and provide a host of cool resources to help them more easily navigate the season.

Duracell’s Holiday Insurance Program includes free content on its Facebook page, advice from toy experts, free hourly giveaways of the season’s most wanted toys and access to toy reviews from real kids. According to a recent IPSOS survey conducted on behalf of Duracell, nearly half of parents say they feel stressed out during the holiday season, which can often result in forgetting to buy necessary gift accessories for Christmas, such as wrapping paper, tape, and batteries.

Duracell will host a special concert on Facebook with Grammy-nominated musical artist Chris Daughtry on December 14 — all consumers who “like” Duracell’s Facebook page will be granted access to the special performance.

“At Duracell, we know that the holiday season is often about creating a wonderful experience for kids,” Duracell North America general manager Volker Kuhn said. “With our Holiday Insurance Program we hope to provide parents with peace of mind by empowering them to create unforgettable holidays for their families. Duracell also believes that all children deserve a chance to experience the magic of the holidays, and that’s precisely why we’ve partnered with the Toy Industry Foundation. Together, we’ll provide the power for toys that brighten the holidays for less fortunate children and their families.”

As part of the program, Duracell is donating 30,000 batteries to the Toy Industry Foundation, the charitable arm of the North American toy industry, which collects toys from manufacturers, distributors and retailers to deliver to needy children around the world through a network of charities. According to the IPSOS study, nearly three-quarters of parents surveyed say they want to help the less fortunate and wish there was a simple way to do this during the holidays.

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Provider groups file lawsuit to battle Medi-Cal reimbursement rate cuts

BY Antoinette Alexander

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The recent approval of a 10% reimbursement rate cut in California’s Medicaid program, known as Medi-Cal, by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has prompted provider groups to file a lawsuit against the California Department of Healthcare Services and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, alleging that the cuts did not follow proper legal channels.

The California Medical Association, California Dental Association, California Pharmacists Association and National Association of Chain Drug Stores joined together to file the lawsuit with the California Central Federal District Court. The California Hospital Association recently filed a suit on behalf of the Subacute Distinct Part Nursing Facilities that is set to be heard on Dec. 19.

“In late September, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services asked DHCS for more information that would substantiate its state plan amendments for cuts in the Medi-Cal program. Without receiving that information, CMS went ahead and approved the cuts before them,” stated Francisco J. Silva, CMA general counsel and VP. “It is clear that CMS did not follow protocol and applied the wrong legal standard. The approval of the SPAs will have dramatic affects on access to health care for the poorest, most vulnerable Californians.”

The California legislature passed and Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 97, which included a 10% reimbursement rate cut for physicians, dentists and pharmacists. NACDS stated that federal approval was required before the state could implement its proposed cuts. By law, the state is required to submit underlying documents to CMS clearly documenting that access to care for Medi-Cal patients would not be impacted by the state plan amendments.

The California Dental Association believes the move will result in further hindrance of dentists’ ability to provide appropriate care. “The state’s elimination of adult dental services in 2009 was devastating to low-income Californians. More cuts to children’s services are unconscionable,” stated Dan Davidson, president of the California Dental Association. “California’s vulnerable children deserve better, and we must take a stand against the state’s willingness to obstruct their access to care.”

The information that CMS relied on to approve the state’s cuts does not measure whether and how patients’ access to care would be impacted or otherwise take into consideration, as required by law, the costs to provide the care. In fact, a recent poll and independent studies showed that access to care already is unequal, making the recent cuts illegal by federal standards, NACDS stated.

“Provider cuts may satisfy this year’s state budget but will ultimately result in greater long-term costs. This case isn’t about pharmacist profits; it’s about pharmacists being reimbursed less than what they pay for the medication itself, not to mention any consideration for their professional services as a healthcare provider. Patients are the ones who are going to suffer,” added Jon R. Roth, CPhA CEO.

Because California Medi-Cal rates already are extremely low and many prescription medications are reimbursed at breakeven, many providers cannot afford to participate. Kaiser State Health Facts lists California as the lowest reimbursed state in the nation. The co-payments and arbitrary limits on services will create additional barriers for sick patients seeking care and ultimately, they likely will be forced to delay care or use emergency rooms for basic health services.

"As studies have shown repeatedly, jeopardizing patients’ access to community pharmacy services diminishes health and increases the reliance on costly forms of care. These drastic cuts are not in the best interest of patient care, nor are they in the best interest of the state’s finances," added NACDS president and CEO Steven Anderson.

"Community pharmacies help to reduce direct drug spending through strategies, including utilization of generic medications.  They also help to make health care more affordable through health-improving services, such as medication counseling, vaccinations, education and screenings," Anderson continued. "These cuts would turn the state’s back on innovative and affordable approaches to patient care, and turn the state’s back on patients themselves."

CMA, CPhA and CDA successfully sued in the past to enjoin prior Medi-Cal cuts, and the groups expect to once again demonstrate that federal law, which ensures that Medi-Cal patients have equal access to health care, was not followed.

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Fred’s reports strong Q3 results

BY Allison Cerra

MEMPHIS — Discount retailer Fred’s realized positive third-quarter results, thanks to "strong customer traffic, higher gross margins in its general merchandise and pharmacy departments, as well as improved management of controllable operating costs," Fred’s CEO Bruce Efird said.

Total sales for the retailer rose 2% to $444.4 million, compared with the year-ago period, while comparable-store sales were flat. Net income increased 16% to $9 million, compared with last year, while earnings per diluted share rose 20% to 24 cents.

During the third quarter, Fred’s opened seven new stores and six express pharmacy stores and currently operates 683 discount general merchandise stores, including 22 franchised Fred’s stores.

Looking ahead, the company expects total sales for the fourth quarter  to increase in the range of 2% to 4%, while comparable-store sales are expected to increase between 1% and 3%, versus an increase of 2.3% in fourth quarter 2010. Earnings per diluted share are forecasted to increase between 5% and 23% to a range of 23 cents to 27 cents.

"As the company enters the final quarter of the year, we remain confident in our ability to drive earnings improvement," Efird said. "We recognize the continuing strong economic headwinds, including high unemployment levels across our markets and a very competitive sales environment. On the other hand, we are excited about the success of our Core 5 program and other initiatives designed to drive sales and traffic, and believe our merchandising and marketing plans in place will deliver great values and exciting shopping experiences for our customers in the upcoming holiday season. On balance, Fred’s remains well positioned to provide a strong finish to 2011 and pursue our longer-term growth objectives."

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