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Rite Aid fields insurance agents to help customers understand, enroll in Obamacare plans

BY Alaric DeArment

CAMP HILL, Pa. — Starting next month, licensed insurance agents will be at nearly 2,000 Rite Aid stores for free consultations with customers about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, in conjunction with the start of enrollment in the Health Insurance Marketplace, the retail pharmacy chain said Monday.

The health insurance exchanges are scheduled to launch on Oct. 1, and the company announced a set of new resources to help customers understand the healthcare-reform law and provide them with information they can use to help them make health insurance choices for themselves and their families, as well as advising customers about Medicaid eligibility in some states. Agents will be available to meet one-on-one with customers to answer questions about the law and help them compare plans based on individual needs, and customers will be able to enroll in a plan if they choose. Agents will not be available where state government marketplace restrictions prohibit them, including Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont.

"As a trusted community healthcare provider, our customers look to us for help in making healthcare decisions for themselves and their families," Rite Aid chairman and CEO John Standley said. "With the implementation of the Health Insurance Marketplace, our customers will now have many new choices to make in the coming enrollment period. We know they will look to Rite Aid for information and guidance, and that’s why we’re providing free resources in store and online to help them better understand the new requirements and options available to them under the law." 

Standley will also appear with Department of Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius at an event Monday morning in Hoboken, N.J., to announce the new program.


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Mobile health apps represent a sweet opportunity for those retailers trading on health and wellness

BY Michael Johnsen

MarketsandMarkets has projected the global market for mobile health apps and other products is expected to reach a value of nearly $21 billion in five years, according to a new report. That’s some 3.5 times larger than today — MarketsandMarkets estimates health apps generate some $6.3 billion today. That’s also a lot of consumers/patients interested in getting a better handle on their own care — and that spells opportunity for pharmacy operators.

The truth is these could be very conservative figures. Both smartphone and tablet penetration is on a steep incline across the world, leading to more app downloads. And the baby boomer generation — most of them tech-savvy — aren’t getting any younger. And that leads to more health and wellness downloads. 

According to another app market prognosticator — Portio Research — they placed the total app business at $12 billion through calendar 2012, representing more than 46 billion downloads. In 2012, more apps were downloaded than the previous five years, all taken together. 

And that sharp uptick in downloads will continue — Portio Research forecasts 82 billion downloads, overall, for 2013. Overall app revenue for 2013 is expected to reach upwards of $20 billion. By 2017, the global app market in total is expected to reach $63.5 billion. 

According to Portio Research, the number of apps any one person downloads has been leveling off in more mature markets such as Europe and North America. However, there are more devices on which those apps can be downloaded. That’s driving the growth. Smartphone shipments worldwide are expected to reach 823 million in 2013, while tablet shipments are expected to reach shipments of 208 million. 

That said, the number of app users is expected to reach 4.4 billion worldwide by the end of 2017, Portio Research suggests, which is four times more users than there are today. 

While you really can’t compare MarketsandMarkets’ apples to Portio Research’s oranges, the fact is both prognostications are as sweet. There will be billions of people worldwide all interested in bettering their health and wellness through technology. The pharmacy operator who figures out how to best tap into that self-care pool with a health and wellness center that effectively augments the utility of those apps — that’s the operator who will successfully translate opportunity into gain.

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Canadian study further demonstrates pharmacists’ role in improving patient care, cost

BY Alaric DeArment

Expanding pharmacists’ role in Canada could reduce the burden of chronic illness on patients and save the country’s healthcare system between C$1.4 billion and C$1.9 billion (US$1.34 billion to $1.83 billion) over the next three years, according to a new report released by Arthritis Consumer Experts, the Arthritis Research Centre of Canada and Shoppers Drug Mart.

Canada’s single-payer healthcare system is vastly different from that of the United States, not to mention differences between the two countries in terms of laws and regulations that govern pharmacy, but the lessons from the study apply equally to both.

The Canadian study is just the latest in years of research showing the benefits of expanding pharmacists’ role in health care. Allowing them to do things like develop and manage patient care plans and renew prescriptions would reduce the work load of physicians and provide greater convenience for patients.

Of course, American pharmacists are no strangers to that level of collaboration with physicians. In many states, in addition to vaccinations against flu and shingles, they can vaccinate against diseases like hepatitis A and B through collaborative practice agreements with physicians.

But perhaps the most crucial role pharmacists play in reducing costs is by promoting medication adherence through services like medication therapy management. Last month, the American Pharmacists Association released a book that presents new ways of teaching the theory and practice of motivational interviewing for healthcare professionals, which has been shown to improve treatment adherence and outcomes, promote behavior change, improve patient satisfaction and increase retention rates in complex case management. According to an often-cited study by the New England Healthcare Institute, poor medication adherence costs the U.S. healthcare system about $290 billion per year.

Then there are services like retail clinics and health screenings. Sam’s Club has administered millions of free screenings to customers at its pharmacies, and CVS announced Thursday the second half of its Project Health wellness campaign, whereby it plans to deliver more than $15 million in free health screenings to communities across the country by the end of the year.

As IMS Health VP industry relations Doug Long said in a presentation at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores’ Total Store Expo in Las Vegas, pharmacies are a crucial link in the cost-containment chain, but reducing healthcare costs will require collaboration between them, physicians, patients and payers. It seems the U.S.’s neighbor to the north gets the idea.

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