Medicare, Medicaid, Health Insurance Marketplace to continue operating amid government shutdown
NEW YORK — The Department of Health and Human Services will furlough more than half of its employees due to the government shutdown, the agency said.
In announcing a contingency staffing plan for the shutdown, which started Tuesday when Congress failed to pass a budget in time, HHS said 52% of its employees would be on furlough, totaling 40,512 members of its staff. The remaining 48%, or 37,686 employees, would remain. The scheduled introduction of the health insurance exchanges mandated under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will also continue.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will "continue large portions of ACA activities," and Medicare will continue largely without disruption. Meanwhile, due to the advanced appropriation enacted in the fiscal year 2013 appropriations legislation, states will continue to have funding for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
The Food and Drug Administration will continue "limited" activities related to user fee-funded programs and such vital activities as consumer protection and high-risk recalls. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will continue minimal support for protecting health of U.S. citizens here and abroad, while the National Institutes of Health will continue to care for current NIH Clinical Center patients and some other services.
Nevertheless, the CDC will not be able to support the annual seasonal influenza program, outbreak detection or linking across states using genetic and molecular analysis, and the NIH will not be able to admit most new patients.
On Tuesday, HHS announced the opening of the exchanges, officially known as the Health Insurance Marketplace, without mentioning the shutdown. Coverage begins as early as Jan. 1, 2014 for people who enroll by Dec. 15.
"For years, the financial, physical or mental health of millions of Americans suffered because they couldn’t afford the care they or their family needed," HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius said. "But thanks to the healthcare law, all of that is changing. Today’s launch begins a new day when healthcare coverage will be more accessible and affordable than ever before."
Walgreens expanding scope of retail pharmacy experience and services heading into fiscal 2014
DEERFIELD, Ill. — In its quest to own health and daily living, Walgreens achieved several key milestones since the beginning of fiscal 2013. In addition to augmenting the customer experience across more than 500 Well Experience stores and 12 flagship locations — or what Walgreens president and CEO Greg Wasson characterized as "the ultimate wellness store" — Walgreens entered into several arrangements that will help catapult the retail pharmacy chain from a base of a prescription drug provider to the realm of becoming a respected healthcare provider, where Walgreens delivers to its healthcare partners more efficient health care in a retail setting.
Walgreens posted a sales gain of 0.8% for the fiscal year ended Aug. 31, reaching a record $72.2 billion and filling a record 821 million prescriptions, helping boost its share of the retail pharmacy market to 19.1%.
(For complete financial results, read: Walgreens reaches 19.1% prescription market share on banner year generating overall sales of $72.2 billion)
In an effort to both enhance the in-store customer experience and the solutions Walgreens can bring to employer and payer partners, Walgreens is focused in four areas, Wasson told analysts Tuesday morning: "Improving customer value; providing innovative products and services; developing a systematic, localized offering; and designing the most relevant network and formats."
With regard to owning health and daily living, Walgreens in the past year enrolled more than 85 million customers into its Balance Rewards loyalty program, which celebrated its first year on the market in mid-September. "The program has become the fastest-growing loyalty program in the world," Wasson told analysts. And as many as two-thirds of all front-end purchases currently involve use of the Balance Rewards loyalty card.
The company noted that Balance Rewards members can participate in additional health-related activities and goal tracking to earn more points through walking, running and weight-management goals that can be logged and tracked through Steps with Balance Rewards. It’s an example of how Walgreens can help incentivize healthier behaviors through the natural course of doing business. For employers and provider partners, directing their covered into this kind of organically-driven environment of better health choices may pay dividends in improving health and preventing hospital stays.
American consumers got their first taste of what Walgreens’ strategic partnership with Alliance Boots means at the store level. Walgreens in the past year launched the beauty powerhouse brand Boots No7 for women across its flagship locations and throughout the Phoenix market. And Boots No7 products for men has launched nationwide as well.
With its recent acquisition of 76 North Carolina Kerr Drug stores, Walgreens will extend its vision into a market already well-versed in what value a progressive pharmacy operator can bring to the health marketplace. "We’re very comfortable our mission, and our vision is going to continue with our partners [at] Walgreens," noted Kerr Drug CEO Tony Civello in an interview with DSN.
During fiscal 2013, Walgreens also completed its acquisition of the USA Drug chain.
But Walgreens isn’t stopping at wowing customers — they’re wowing healthcare providers and employer partners, too. "We are only at the very beginning of the next leg of our company’s journey," Wade Miquelon, Walgreens EVP, CFO and president, international, told investors. "It’s a journey that can put us at the epicenter of delivering better healthcare outcomes in the United States and abroad, make everyday living a little bit better and change the paradigm of how we work with large global suppliers … to create value."
A little less than one month ago, Walgreens announced a long-term partnership to bring access to Theranos’ new lab testing service to retail. "[This is] another innovation in pharmacy healthcare," Wasson said. "This service is currently available in our Palo Alto, Calif. store, and we have plans to expand later this year." As the service becomes available through Theranos Wellness Centers inside Walgreens stores, consumers will be able to access less invasive and more affordable clinician-directed lab testing.
Walgreens rebranded its 398 Take Care clinics as Healthcare Clinics at Walgreens, better representing the retail clinic operation’s suite of offerings, which has expanded to include a chronic care assessment and treatment management to its menu of preventive and acute care services.
Most recently, Walgreens Healthcare Clinic formed a multi-year agreement with healthcare technology company Inovalon to provide Inovalon’s data-driven encounter support platform, Electronic Patient Assessment Solution Suite (ePASS), within Healthcare Clinic at select Walgreens. The partnership with Inovalon represents another advancement for the convenient care industry as nurse practitioners are being armed with the power of analytics to provide a higher level of individualized care to patients.
Walgreens’ focus on the Medicare Part D market has netted an increase of 120 basis points in Medicare Part D business, outpacing the industry, Wasson noted.
And Walgreens has augmented its specialty pharmacy footprint. "To improve the experience, we offer specialty customers, we launched an alliance this year with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to offer industry-leading pharmacy services to patients through CF Services," Wasson said. "We’re also improving support to specialty patients by providing more access to limited-distribution drugs for cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions treated by specialty drugs," he said. "The specialty pipeline is robust, and this year we gained access to 21 new limited-distribution drugs."
In the past year, Walgreens and Express Scripts launched Smart90 Walgreens, a new option for Express Scripts clients interested in 90-day prescription drug programs that drive lower costs and improve health outcomes for people with chronic diseases. Plan sponsors that choose to include Walgreens as part of the Smart90 program for their pharmacy benefit will provide their members who have chronic conditions the choice to receive 90-day supplies of maintenance medications through home delivery from Express Scripts or directly at a Walgreens retail pharmacy for the same co-payment.
For Walgreens fourth-quarter and year-end results, click here.
Rite Aid brings back annual ‘favorite pharmacist’ contest
CAMP HILL, Pa. — Customers at Rite Aid have a chance to win $2,500 in gift cards in a contest that celebrates American Pharmacists Month in October.
Rite Aid said Tuesday that it would bring back the Vote for Your Favorite Pharmacy Team Member Contest for the 10th year. Customers can nominate their favorite member of a Rite Aid pharmacy team. The contest was designed to recognize the chain’s pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, pharmacy cashiers and Wellness Ambassadors. The winning employee will be recognized by Rite Aid with a lapel pin and letter of commendation from chairman and CEO John Standley.
"As a health and wellness destination, every day our pharmacy teams are on the front lines, helping our customers live and stay well," Rite Aid SVP pharmacy operations Dan Miller said. "From the Wellness Ambassador who helps a customer learn about the Rite Aid programs available to help them manage their medications to the pharmacist counseling a patient on over-the-counter medications or immunizations, our pharmacy associates are making a difference in the health and well-being of those they serve in their communities."
Last year’s winners, announced in February 2013, were Ada, Ohio, pharmacy technician Cheryl Minix and Birmingham, Mich., customer Holly Smith.
Voting takes place between Tuesday and Oct. 31, and customers can vote through a mail-in nomination form available at stores or on the company’s website. Customers who vote will automatically be entered into a random drawing to win $2,500 in Rite Aid gift cards, and one nominated pharmacy team member will also receive $2,500 in gift cards through a random drawing.