NACDS, NCPA support healthcare provisions in new Senate ‘jobs’ bill
ALEXANDRIA, Va. Two organizations catering to the drug retailing industry and the nation’s independent pharmacies expressed strong support for two provisions that are part of a new economic stimulus proposal by Senate majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
The bill, coined the Senate “jobs bill”, includes provisions which are strongly supported by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and National Community Pharmacists Association. The bill is in part designed to keep Medicare reimbursement rates at current levels, and includes a six-month extension of the temporary increase in the federal medical assistance percentage, which will maintain federal funding for state Medicaid programs at the current higher level through the end of June 2011. The bill also provides an exemption from the accreditation requirement for Medicare durable medical equipment providers.
“This legislation will help to ensure that Medicare and Medicaid patients can continue relying on their community pharmacist to meet their health needs in a cost-effective manner,” said NCPA EVP and CEO Bruce Roberts. “Independent community pharmacies are the backbone of the Medicaid drug benefit, serving a higher rate of the program’s patients than other pharmacies. This funding will allow local pharmacists to meet important health needs, rather than sending patients to costlier emergency rooms. We supported its inclusion in President Obama’s 2011 budget and we support it now.”
Additionally, the new legislation also would extend small business loan guarantees that were part of the 2009 stimulus; continue so-called COBRA health insurance premiums; and allow 15-year straight-line cost recovery for qualified leasehold and retail improvements, NCPA said.
Said NACDS president and CEO Steve Anderson, “By helping to maintain access to pharmacy patient care, these provisions will improve lives and help to reduce long-term health costs that result when patients stray from the necessary treatments, such as those associated with chronic disease. NACDS has urged the advancement of these measures and will continue work for their passage and enactment, so that patients can benefit from their pharmacies’ role as the face of neighborhood health care.”
In related news, NACDS is hosting the Second Annual RxIMPACT Day on Capitol Hill to afford pharmacy executives, pharmacists, pharmacy students, and state pharmacy association representatives the opportunity to make their voices heard in Washington, D.C. on pivotal issues like these.
Turning new corner, Winn-Dixie builds store
COVINGTON, La. —Winn-Dixie Stores in early February celebrated the completion of its new store, the first ground-up store for the grocer since 2004.
“We are very proud to be able to offer this beautiful store to the neighbors and communities of Covington,” stated Winn-Dixie chairman, CEO and president Peter Lynch. “Not only does it provide a best-in-class shopping experience, but it brings 200 new jobs to the area, as well.”
The 55,000-sq.-ft. supermarket, located a little north of New Orleans, features a 24-ft. tall open entrance way highlighted by an outdoor farmer’s market. Inside are a host of “enhanced” features, including a wine department staffed with a wine steward, a peanut butter machine and a full pharmacy department and wellness center.
Winn-Dixie offers several health testing services and immunization opportunities for consumers throughout the year. As a recent enhancement to its pharmacy offering, Winn-Dixie rolled out its WD RxConnect program chainwide. WD RxConnect links all of Winn-Dixie’s more than 400 pharmacies through a centralized prescription record system and also allows patients to access their own records online. “That’s kind of unique in the food store industry,” John Fegan, Winn-Dixie VP pharmacy, told Drug Store News earlier this year. “Under the WD RxConnect program, a patient can walk in, look up their medication history online and see what they’re taking.”
E-prescribing use soars, but independents unconnected
NEW YORK —American retail pharmacy continued its slow but inexorable journey into the 21st century in 2009 as a mixture of government incentives and trends resulted in a mushrooming of prescribers and pharmacists embracing electronic prescribing and electronic health records.
According to e-prescribing network Surescripts, the volume of e-prescriptions went from 240 million in 2008 to 800 million in 2009, while the number of active e-prescribers went from 78,000—12% of all office-based prescribers—to 150,000 over the same period.
“While this is a positive development, there is much room to build on this growth,” National Community Pharmacists Association associate director of public relations John Norton told Drug Store News. NCPA helped sponsor the creation of Surescripts, along with the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and the pharmacy benefit managers CVS Caremark, Express Scripts and Medco Health Solutions.
By October 2009, 100% of pharmacies in Rhode Island were using e-prescribing, and the statewide system allowed state health authorities to track prescriptions and usage of such antiviral drugs as Roche’s Tamiflu (oseltamivir) to identify possible problems, such as shortages, over-prescribing and misuse by patients.
By the end of 2009, 85% of community pharmacies nationwide were connected for e-prescribing, Norton said, but independent pharmacies have lagged, with 40% remaining unconnected and capabilities varying “tremendously” among independents, particularly in rural areas. Also, given the relatively small number of prescribers electronically transmitting prescriptions, not all community pharmacies with e-prescribing equipment actually use it regularly.
That could change soon, however. The financial incentives for adopting e-prescribing under the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008 kicked in at the beginning of 2009, offering qualified prescribers payments of 2% of their Medicare Part B physician fee schedule, and the MIPPA incentives have been cited as a reason for the strong growth in e-prescribing in the last year. The 2% rate will continue through 2010, but will fall to 1% in 2011 and 0.5% in 2013. Starting in 2012, prescribers who have failed to adopt e-prescribing will pay 1% penalty fees, which will increase to 1.5% in 2013 and 2% in 2014.
On the electronic health records side, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provides physicians with stimulus incentives of between $44,000 and $64,000 if they can demonstrate “meaningful use” of a certified EHR system, and in January, healthcare information technology firm Allscripts launched the Allscripts Stimulus Program, designed to persuade prescribers to adopt EHR. Dozens of states also have received federal matching funds for moving to electronic health records under ARRA, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
General adoption of EHR and e-prescribing is well on its way to happening in the United States, but it still faces obstacles.
“Challenges include installation and transaction costs, the costs associated with training staff and challenges with physician prescriber management systems, having to call back physicians regarding incomplete information on prescriptions, the incompatibility of technology systems and enhancing two-way online communications with prescribers,” Norton said.