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New challenges on the horizon as healthcare overhaul made official

BY Jim Frederick

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT After more than a year that spawned bitter debate, a tea party, a growing divide in Congress and a never-ending clash of ideas, charges, countercharges and soul-searching about the role of government and deficit spending, healthcare reform is law. Now comes an even tougher battle: the President and his administration must make the machinery of a new, more outcomes-centered healthcare system work within its $940 million budget, and they must do a thorough job of explaining what it will mean for every American and every employer-sponsored healthcare plan.

(THE NEWS: Health reform draws pharma’s support, but alarm from insurance industry. For the full story, click here)

Health reform will add as many as 32 million more Americans to the rolls of the insured, boosting revenues — if not profit margins — for retail pharmacy and the pharmaceutical industry. It will put new spending curbs on Medicare and impose new oversight on treatment regimens and their impact on patients. It could spur the use of, and reimbursement for, medication therapy management by pharmacists, while assuring a somewhat more equitable system for Medicaid prescription reimbursements and the sale of medical supplies by pharmacies.

Those are some of the obvious and most widely reported effects of the health overhaul bill President Obama signed into law Tuesday. But the law could have other profound long-term effects on how healthcare is paid for and delivered in the United States.

For one thing, the law eliminates the deductions that big employers can now take on the nontaxable subsidies they get from the federal government for providing prescription drug benefits to Medicare Part D beneficiaries. The subsidies — which can range as high as $1,300 for each retiree covered by an employer’s health plan, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal, were set up in 2006 to help employers defray the costs of the Part D program.

The tax-free subsidies will remain in place. But to account for the loss in tax deductions, big employers are now taking big one-time charges against their future earnings, according to the Journal.

The upshot is higher costs to employers. The outcome could be that more employers follow the lead set by companies like Caterpillar, which opted to eliminate the pharmacy benefit manager middleman in providing drug coverage to their employees and go straight to the provider. In Caterpillar’s case, that provider is Walgreens, which at the beginning of 2010 began filling scripts for Caterpillar employees and retirees covered by the big heavy equipment maker, at a significant discount to market price. More employers could follow suit, in a bid to save money through direct price negotiations with big pharmacy chains like Walgreens.

Also impacted by the new reform law will be drug makers. Bloomberg news service reported Thursday that the massive, 2,400-page bill signed by President Obama includes a little-understood, 43-page passage aimed at comparing the effectiveness of one medication over another.

The provision, according to Bloomberg, would provide $500 million a year to fund an institute that would scrutinize drug treatments and devices, as well as medical procedures, to determine the relative effectiveness of one product or treatment over another.

The goal: to begin bending down the ever-rising cost curve for health care in America.

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Meijer kicks off fifth ‘Simply Give’ campaign

BY Allison Cerra

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. For the fifth time in less than 18 months, Meijer is teaming up with its shoppers to help restock the shelves of approximately 191 local food banks as part of the grocer’s “Simply Give” food pantry donation program.

The two-month program, Meijer’s fifth since starting the donation effort in November 2008, seeks to lend a hand to the increasing number of food pantries that struggle to keep up with the growing demand for their services. The previous four “Simply Give” initiatives have raised more than $1 million in food donations that have gone directly to local food banks and pantries. Each one of Meijer’s 191 stores throughout the Midwest has identified a local organization to receive the grocery donation.

The latest “Simply Give” program will run from now through May 15. Two other “Simply Give” food drives are scheduled for the late summer and early fall of this year.

As in previous efforts, the program encourages Meijer shoppers to purchase a $10 Meijer Food Pantry Donation Card at special displays throughout the store. The donation cards are then converted into Meijer Gift cards and given to the local food pantry selected by the store.

As it has done in the past, Meijer is seeding the “Simply Give” program with $100,000 in grocery gift cards that will be divided equally among all the participating food pantries.

“This program is a testament to the compassion our shoppers have toward their neighbors,” said Hank Meijer, co-chairman and CEO. “We’re proud to team up with thousands of our customers to lend a helping hand to those less fortunate and make a difference in the hundreds of communities where we do business.”

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Febreze expands home collection with new diffuser

BY Allison Cerra

CINCINNATI The Febreze home collection is expanding its line of premium scented home decor items with a no spill wood diffuser.

The no spill wood diffuser technology allows Febreze scented oils to be absorbed into the wood and then diffuse through the air for an authentic scent experience without the worry or hassle of spills. The decorative product joins the likes of Febreze Flameless Luminaries, soy candles and room spray to complement the complete Febreze home collection of products that allow consumers to accent their homes with modern design and authentic fragrances.

“Febreze is always looking to create innovative air care products that meet the needs of our target consumer,” said Chad Brizendine, assistant brand manager, Febreze. “The no spill wood diffuser is a great addition to the Febreze home collection and will allow scent and decor-lovers to experience the premium decor products one would find at specialty stores right in the aisle of their local mass retailer.”

In support of the new product launch, Febreze is partnering with Brooke Burke, mom correspondent on the daytime talk show “The Doctors,” host of TV Land’s, “She’s Got the Look” and “mom-prenuer” and co-CEO of the online community for the woman behind the mom ModernMom.com.

The Febreze no spill wood diffuser is available in willow blossom, pomegranate mango, green tea citrus and honeysuckle orchid scents.  The new product and the entire Febreze home collection only is available at Walmart from now through September and then at major retailers nationwide starting in September, with the suggested prices ranging from $14.99 to $16.99.

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