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With health reform outlook dimmed, pharmacy can’t abandon its agenda

BY Jim Frederick

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT Was the massive effort by the White House and congressional Democrats to overhaul the nation’s expensive and confusing healthcare system nothing more than a wasted, year-long effort?

(THE NEWS: NCPA responds to President Obama’s State of the Union Address. For the full story, click here)

That question hangs over Washington, the retail pharmacy industry and the country at large, and it cast a slight pall over President Obama’s State of the Union address Wednesday night. The stunning election in Massachusetts of Republican and staunch health reform opponent Scott Brown to succeed Senator Edward M. Kennedy was a tonic to Republicans opposed to the Obama administration’s long campaign to drive a health-reform package through Congress.

In the words of Robert Pear of The New York Times, the election of Brown buoyed health reform opponents, pointed up the discomfort many Americans now have about overhauling the health system, and “imperiled” the health reform movement. In his address, the president acknowledged the hurdles Democrats must overcome to get health reform back on track, but he also made it crystal clear that he had no intention of abandoning the effort.

“I didn’t take on health care because it was good politics,” Obama said. He acknowledged that health reform is “a complex issue, and the longer it was debated, the more skeptical people became.

“I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people,” he added. However, he added, “I will not walk away” from the effort to extend health coverage to uninsured Americans, bring down health costs through the practice of evidence-based medicine, lower insurance premiums and prevent what he called “insurance company abuses.”

Whatever fate lies in store this year for healthcare legislation, community pharmacy has a big stake in the reform movement. With or without a comprehensive overhaul, there are elements in both the House and Senate reform bills that retail pharmacy operators need to fight for in 2010.

Bruce Roberts, EVP and CEO of the National Community Pharmacists Association, reminded NCPA’s members of those priorities following the State of the Union speech. “Whatever is decided by politicians in Washington in the coming days or weeks,” he said Thursday, “it’s still imperative that Congress” pass legislation to improve four key challenges addressed in both the House and Senate bills.

Those challenges, Roberts said, include the unsustainable level of current Medicare generic drug reimbursements; needless accreditation requirements for the selling of medical supplies to seniors; lack of “transparency” in the way pharmacy benefit managers operate and price their services; and the anemic level of support for pharmacist-delivered medication therapy management programs.

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URAC gears up for Best Practices Awards

BY Allison Cerra

WASHINGTON The nation’s leading healthcare accreditation and education organization has issued a call for entries for its 2010 Best Practices Awards in Health Care Consumer Empowerment and Protection to find which companies are setting the standard in advancing the role of consumers as active participants in health care.

URAC’s Best Practices Awards recognize the achievements of healthcare companies that are actively pursuing practices to advance consumer empowerment and protection in an exceptional, measurable and reproducible way. Last year’s winners included such innovative companies as CVS Caremark, HealthPartners, Eliza Corp., Kaiser Permanente of the Mid-Atlantic States, and Pro-Change Behavior Systems.

“At a time when everyone is looking for healthcare value, transparency, and accountability, the URAC Best Practices Awards give healthcare organizations an opportunity to showcase best practices and receive recognition for their commitment to engage consumers as partners,” said Alan Spielman, president and CEO of URAC. “We are delighted to honor those who are leading the health care industry through innovation and providing proven practices that advance patient safety and empower consumers.”

Awards will be given in two categories. The Consumer Decision-Making category recognizes practices that educate consumers about their healthcare needs while providing the information, tools, and resources necessary to promote empowerment. These could include health coaching, disease-specific education, or behavior change programs. The Consumer Health Improvement category honors practices that are related to quality improvement in patient safety such as drug therapy management, disease prevention, or care coordination.

The deadline for entries is March 15. To access the online submission form, visit www.urac.org/QualitySummit11/. For questions, e-mail [email protected] or call 202-216-9010.

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Rite Aid reports drop in same-store sales

BY Michael Johnsen

CAMP HILL, Pa. Rite Aid on Thursday posted a 2.1% decline in same-store sales for the four weeks ended Jan. 23. Total drug store sales for the four-week period decreased 3.3% to $1.9 billion.

Both front-end same-store sales and pharmacy comparable sales were each down 2.1% for the period, while prescriptions filled at comparable stores decreased 1.1%.

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