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ISPC urges FTC to investigate ESI-Medco merger

BY Alaric DeArment

WASHINGTON — The Independent Specialty Pharmacy Coalition is urging the Federal Trade Commission to look into the pending merger between pharmacy benefit managers Express Scripts and Medco Health Solutions, the ISPC said Monday.

In a letter to FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz, the group asked the FTC to "comprehensively investigate" the agreement, noting that the merger would give the combined company control of 52% of the specialty pharmacy market and expressing concern that it would restrict access to specialty drugs by forcing manufacturers into exclusive distribution agreements.

"With such market clout, Express Scripts, Express Scripts has the potential to pose manufacturers with an ultimatum: ‘Elect us as sole distributor or risk not being able to serve half of he U.S. or six of the top 10 employers,’" ISPC executive director Russell Gay said. "Exclusive distribution agreements have denied patients choice, often forcing them to use inferior service, threatening their health. These vulnerable consumers need and demand the high quality counseling and monitoring provided by community pharmacies."

The ISPC’s latest statement follows one made at the beginning of the month, as well as a joint statement in July by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and the National Community Pharmacists Association opposing the ESI-Medco deal.

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Walgreens serves up new PL food offerings; and that’s just Nice!

BY Michael Johnsen

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT — Nice! may tout no-frills packaging, but make no mistake, Walgreens’ latest private-label introduction is anything but. It’s another example of Joe Magnacca’s influence as president of daily living solutions; and it’s another way by which Walgreens will better connect to its customers. Indeed, the packaging is more similar to the DR Delish brand than Walgreens’ typical store-brand fare. But perhaps most important, Nice! represents a strong push into a key drug-store differentiator going forward — food offerings.

(THE NEWS: Walgreens officially kicks off Nice! launch. For the full story, click here)

And it couldn’t have come at a better time. The state of the economy is fast becoming a top-of-mind concern for Americans, again, as both prices at the pump remain relatively high, compared with last year — a national average of $3.57 per gallon as of Aug. 22, as compared with $2.71 per gallon a year ago, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report — and food prices continue to rise.

According to Deloitte’s "2011 Consumer Food and Product Insight Survey," nearly 9-in-10 survey respondents (87.7%) believed prices in food stores are escalating, and almost three-quarters (74%) said the size of some packaged goods is smaller. Consequently, savvy consumers are purchasing more private-label and store-brand products, the survey found. More than three-quarters of respondents (75.3%) purchased lower-priced products, and nearly 2-in-5 respondents (39.6%) added more private-label products to their grocery bags.

Couple that insight with Walgreens’ July announcement that the chain would create some 1,000 "food oasis" stores over the next five years, and you can begin to see that food offerings in drug stores aren’t just a passing fad. At least not at Walgreens; food is here to stay. In those stores identified as a "food oasis," Walgreens has expanded its food selection by up to 60%, offering a larger assortment of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and other healthy meal components to help address the need for greater access to affordable, nutritious food. And now, a line of store-brand value food and other household items to round out that offering.

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CVS announces availability of flu shots at all pharmacy, retail clinic locations

BY Antoinette Alexander

WOONSOCKET, R.I. — CVS/pharmacy and MinuteClinic have announced the "You vs. Flu" campaign, which is supported by more than 20,000 immunizing healthcare professionals who will vaccinate patients every day, no appointment needed, at all CVS/pharmacy and MinuteClinic locations nationwide.

The flu shots are being provided by CVS pharmacists and MinuteClinic nurse practitioners and physician assistants every day, including evenings and weekends, with no appointment necessary.

CVS/pharmacy has more than 7,200 locations and MinuteClinic has nearly 600 locations inside select CVS/pharmacy stores.

The CDC reports that last flu season nearly 1-in-5 adults received a flu shot in a retail setting. This year, the pharmacy retailer is looking to make its pharmacies and retail-based health clinics even more convenient and accessible. In addition to 7,800 combined retail locations, CVS/pharmacy and MinuteClinic are providing direct medical billing for many national and regional health plans that will cover all or part of the cost of a flu shot.

The price $29.99 and many health plans are accepted, including Medicare Part B and Tricare, which may cover the full cost of a flu shot. Customers will receive a $5 CVS gift card if any part of their cost of a flu shot is not covered by insurance, the company stated.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone ages 6 months and older get a flu shot as soon as vaccine is available, including those who were vaccinated last flu season.

CVS/pharmacy and MinuteClinic also are offering the Fluzone High-Dose vaccine this season, which is available at all locations for people ages 65 years and older. This higher dose vaccine is designed to provide better protection from influenza to this age group, which has a greater risk for developing a severe illness from the flu.

Each year, influenza causes between 3,600 to 49,000 deaths in the United States, and more than 200,000 Americans are hospitalized for flu-related complications annually. This season’s vaccine is designed to protect against three influenza viruses, including an influenza B virus and two influenza A viruses, H1N1 and H3N2.

"A flu shot can reduce the chance of becoming infected by influenza by up to 70%. Because it takes about two weeks to achieve full immunization after being vaccinated, a flu shot is recommended as soon as vaccine is available," stated Paulette Thabault, chief nurse practitioner officer for MinuteClinic. "Even if you received a flu shot last year, immunity from influenza declines over time, so a flu shot is still necessary to provide you with the best protection against catching the flu."

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