PHARMACY

With legislative clock running out, Medicare, Medicaid bills gain urgency

BY Jim Frederick

ALEXANDRIA, Va. With the clock ticking down to the final days on this year’s session of Congress, and lawmakers racing to adjourn for the holidays, key members of the House and Senate are racing to pass legislation that could make the Medicare Part D drug benefit program and the Medicaid prescription reimbursement system easier for pharmacy operators to swallow.

To that end, Sen. Max Baucus, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, is reportedly negotiating directly with House leadership on what pharmacy leaders consider a must-pass Medicare bill this year. Known as S. 1954, or the Pharmacy Access Improvement Act of 2007, the bill was written in July by Baucus, D-Mont., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. It would require complete and accurate Part D prescription drug claims submitted electronically to be paid within 14 days, and paper claims within 30 days.

To push the bill toward a vote before the end of the year, Baucus is steering it through committee and seeking compromise to enable its quick passage. According to a report from the lobbyists of the National Community Pharmacists Association, a number of committee chairmen will play a key role in the effort to reach a consensus on both Medicare and Medicaid legislation acceptable to both houses of Congress.

That list includes Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., chair of the House Ways & Means Committee; Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., chair of the House Ways & Means Health Subcommittee; Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., chair of the House Energy & Commerce Committee; and Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., chair of the House Energy & Commerce Health Subcommittee.

“If the first role of government is to do no harm, and the U.S. Congress will be shirking its duties if it leaves for the holidays without acting on pressing legislative matters regarding the … viability of community pharmacy,” said NCPA executive vice president and chief executive officer Bruce Roberts today. “Congress must correct flaws in Medicare and Medicaid that hinder community pharmacies’ ability to provide patients with prescription drug services and undermine … our free market system.”

Roberts urged lawmakers to “fix this two-headed problem” and “stop the hemorrhaging of community pharmacies” by focusing on several bills introduced earlier this year. “We urge the Senate and House leadership to include the common-sense provisions contained in the specific legislative fixes pending in Congress,” he said. “For Medicare the bills are S. 1954 and H.R. 1474, and for Medicaid the bills are S. 1951 and H.R. 3140/3700.”

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PHARMACY

Amgen discussing Aranesp label changes

BY Allison Cerra

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif.

Biotechnology company Amgen stated late Thursday that it is discussing potential safety updates for its anemia drugs with the Food and Drug Administration.

The drugs are part of a class of drugs called erythropoiesis stimulating agents, or ESAs, used to treat anemia in chemotherapy and kidney-failure patients. They include Aranesp and Epogen, made by Amgen, and Johnson & Johnson’s Procrit.

The FDA’s Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee will meet during the first quarter as part of its ongoing review for ESA therapies, the company said.

Earlier this year, the FDA issued requirements for stronger warnings on the drugs and asked for additional studies. The FDA issued a black box warning on the drugs, the most critical warning a drug can carry.

Amgen currently is conducting studies to further determine the possible safety risks when patients use their pharmaceuticals.

Additional safety label changes will likely be based on data from a breast cancer patient study and follow-up data from a cervical cancer patient study, Amgen said.

Shares of Amgen fell $2.05, or 3.7 percent, to $53.10 in premarket trading.

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Vemics enters agreement to use eRx Network

BY Drew Buono

NANUET, N.Y. Vemics and eRx Network have announced an agreement under which eRx will use Vemics’ iMedicor online, HIPPA compliant Electronic Health Record transport network, which will carry refill requests electronically rather than by fax or phone.

“The proposed solution will eliminate manual processes and reduce costs for eRx Network pharmacy clients,” said Tom Dorsett, president of healthcare solutions for Vemics.  “In addition, it will eliminate multiple manual processes for the physician office and take them a step closer to adoption of more profitable e-prescribing technology.”

“This relationship will move physicians quicker to electronic prescribing and help the pharmacy by eliminating the need to data-enter refill responses,” said Murray Lyle, president and chief operating officer of eRx Network. “There is significant room for growth and expansion as this partnership evolves.” eRx Network currently has more than 200,000 active physician subscribers utilizing the network for carrying e-prescribing transactions and prescription refill requests.

The iMedicor portal, which went live on Oct. 10, is the health industry’s first free, HIPAA-compliant online personal health data exchange and secure messaging portal for physician collaboration, community and referrals.  The portal’s proprietary HIPAA-compliant technology and ability to enable health providers to exchange medical record data, documentation and images are what distinguishes it from the chat-room-style portals for doctors currently in existence.

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