PHARMACY

NACDS aims to set record straight regarding PBM testimony at Senate hearing

BY Michael Johnsen

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The National Association of Chain Drug Stores on Wednesday challenged some of Express Scripts’ and Medco’s testimony during last week’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, most notably that PBMs are subject to state regulation in all states and that as a PBM the two companies have no influence on the design of prescription drug benefits.

In comments submitted to subcommittee chair Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., NACDS president and CEO Steve Anderson emphasized ways in which the PBM executives attempted to downplay the potentially harmful impact of the proposed merger.

“We believe that these witnesses obfuscated facts in an effort to portray their companies in a better light, downplaying many of their companies’ objectionable activities that would certainly worsen if the two companies were allowed to merge,” he noted.

According to the retail pharmacy association, PBMs have successfully opposed overall efforts at state regulation, leaving only a "couple of states" and "the regulation in those states is weak, at best."

As to assertions made by Express Scripts CEO George Paz and Medco CEO David Snow on their lack of control over the design of prescription drug benefits, Anderson countered, "PBMs design the benefit plans and determine the costs. Because of that, it is our view PBMs steer the health plans and employers toward the items they most want to sell," such as mail order or pharmaceutical brands with large rebates.

Express Scripts and Medco executives also made the case that the number of retail pharmacies continues to rise. "Actually, the number of pharmacies is shrinking relative to the number of prescriptions filled by retail pharmacies," Anderson noted. "In 2000, there were about 19 pharmacies for every one million prescriptions, but by 2010, there were only about 16 pharmacies per one million prescriptions."

And Anderson questioned several other areas of concern based on Paz’s and Snow’s comments, including the level of savings that PBMs actually achieve and transparency regarding rebates and discounts from manufacturers. This point has taken on tremendous significance amid the controversy surrounding the merger, as consumer groups and elected officials alike have voiced concern and skepticism that a new mega-PBM would pass along any purported savings to consumers, employers and health plans.

“If this merger is allowed to proceed, patients will be faced with reduced access to retail pharmacies and pharmacy services as the combined entity shifts patients to mail order and dominates specialty pharmacy,” Anderson reiterated. “We believe that you should consider the testimony of Mr. Paz and Mr. Snow as illustrative of how their respective companies presently conduct themselves, which would only be exacerbated by a merger.”

A copy of the NACDS comments for the record can be found here.

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FDA advisory committee recommends approval for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder drug

BY Alaric DeArment

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — A Food and Drug Administration panel has voted to recommend approval for a psychiatric drug made by Alexza Pharmaceuticals.

Alexza said the FDA’s Pychopharmalogic Drugs Advisory Committee voted 9-8 with one abstention to recommend approval of Adasuve (loxapine) for treating agitation in patients with schizophrenia and bipolar mania. The drug is administeredusing Alexza’s proprietary Staccato inhaler technology. The FDA plans to decide whether or not to approve the drug in February. While the agency takes advisory committee recommendations into account when deciding whether to approve a drug, it is not bound by them but will usually follow them nonetheless.

"We view the recommendations by the PDAC today as another step forward in the development of Adasuve," Alexza president and CEO Thomas King said. "We appreciate the advisory committee’s recognition of agitation as a serious and underappreciated symptom of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder."

More than 90% of patients with the disorders experience agitation, which starts with patients feeling uncomfortable, tense and reckless and can escalate into potentially violent behavior.


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NCPA announces pair of events to enhance independent pharmacy operations

BY Michael Johnsen

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The National Community Pharmacists Association on Monday announced a pair of events coming up in 2012.

Registration is currently open for the 2012 National Community Pharmacists Association’s ownership events. In 2012, the Pharmacy Ownership Workshops are sponsored by McKesson and in part by Pharmacists Mutual. The Pharmacy Ownership Workshops will be held Feb. 24 to 26 in Dallas; May 18 to 20 in San Francisco; and Aug. 24 to 26 in Arlington, Va.

The Pharmacy Ownership Workshops offers 19.25 hours of continuing education credits for pharmacists seeking to purchase an existing store or open up a new one, or for existing owners to polish up important management skills. An attraction for attendees will be one-on-one consultations with NCPA’s new senior director of store operations and marketing Gabe Trahan, who is an expert in layout modification, merchandising, curb appeal, pricing strategies and advertising as part of the new member benefit, Front-End Overhaul…More Traffic, More Profits!

Introduced in 2010 in response to owner feedback, NCPA’s Jumpstart Your Pharmacy Business: A Seminar for Owners is designed for current independent pharmacy owners looking to advance their business. Attendees will learn how to better analyze their finances, gain access to important tax and accounting information, understand the benefits of investing in technology, utilize merchandising tools, better handle third-party audits, enhance their marketing prowess and develop new niche services strategies. The 2012 date for the Jumpstart Seminar is July 14 to 15 in Alexandria, Va.

“While getting your business up and running is a challenge many independent community pharmacy owners overcome, the frustration of taking their business to the next level is considerable,” stated Lonny Wilson, NCPA president. “Both of these programs provide the tools to help pharmacy owners get started and tighten up operations, improve profitability and capitalize on new opportunities.”

Both of these workshops are part of the multifaceted, comprehensive NCPA Ownership Academy, which helps pharmacists navigate every step of the entrepreneurial process from buying to selling a pharmacy, as part of the association’s focus on increasing the number of independent community pharmacy owners throughout the country, the association stated.

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