PHARMACY

Sens. Tester, Moran, pharmacy groups gather to discuss role of pharmacists in rural America

BY Allison Cerra

WASHINGTON — During a briefing held for the Senate Community Pharmacy Caucus, two senators and two pharmacy groups emphasized how pharmacists located in rural areas of the United States are playing an increasingly important role in delivering health care to their patients.

Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan., joined the American Pharmacists Association and the National Community Pharmacists Association to discuss how 1,800 independent community pharmacies operate as the only retail pharmacy within their rural community and serve 86% of rural Americans who reside within a 10-mile radius. During the briefing, Eric Beyer, owner Frenchtown Drug, an independent pharmacy in Frenchtown, Mont., spoke to the Caucus on what it means to be a rural community pharmacist.

"Community pharmacies keep rural Montana strong and healthy by providing life-saving medicine, consultations and medical supplies," Tester said. "Today’s event let us know what’s working and what needs to improve so we can take smart, responsible measures to ensure better access to affordable health care."

Meanwhile, Brian Caswell, a community pharmacist with Wolkar Drug in Baxter Springs, Kan., also addressed the gathering by delivering three main points that aimed to illustrate how community pharmacists improve health care in often-underserved rural areas.

"Community pharmacists are a vital part of our nation’s healthcare delivery system, and in many Kansas communities the local pharmacist is a patient’s most direct link to health care," Moran said. "Access to medications, healthcare supplies and the counsel pharmacists provide is very important to the health and well-being of every American. Today’s briefing provided valuable information to Senators as we work to ensure all Americans have better access to affordable health care."


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Community pharmacy coalition calls on state attorneys general to block PBM merger

BY Michael Johnsen

WASHINGTON — The Preserve Community Pharmacy Access NOW! coalition — formed in opposition of the proposed Express Scripts-Medco merger — Wednesday afternoon hosted a press conference making a direct appeal to attorneys general to block the ESI-Medco merger in the courts should the Federal Trade Commission approve the merger.

"There are few mergers I’ve ever seen that are as anticompetitive as this meger," said David Balto, antitrust attorney and former FTC policy director. "When the states think there’s a problem, and they’ve already recognized there’s a problem involving PBMs, they are as every bit as capable … litigators as the FTC," he said. "Ultimately, if [the states] bring a case, it isn’t a bureaucrat in Washington who’s going to make a decision whether or not this merger is anticompetitive, it is a federal court judge."

Balto pointed out that as many as 78 Congress members have written the FTC advocating that this merger be disallowed.

Balto outlined four reasons why an ESI-Medco merger would be detrimental to consumers of health care:

  • One, many consumers will lose access to their community pharmacies because they’ll be forced into mail order;

  • Two, because more patients are pressured into mail-order participation, drug prices actually will rise because of a lower rate of generic substitution;

  • Three, $4-generics available through many retail pharmacies will disappear as the merged PBM will be able to significantly reduce reimbursements for these low-cost pharmaceuticals; and

  • Four, prices will increase across specialty pharmacy offerings as a larger PBM is able to dominate this marketplace through a greater buying power.

History has shown, Balto said, that when Express Scripts "gets exclusivity, they significantly ratchet up prices."

Balto and others project an Express Scripts-Medco merger will eliminate many community pharmacies. "How convenient — the pharmacies disappear and the PBMs take consumers from an open, competitive channel and funnel them into a closed, mail order [system]," said Steve Pociask, president of the American Consumer Institute.

Express Scripts earlier Wednesday filed a Form 8-K with the Securities Exchange Commission that they expect the proposed merger to close as early as next week, suggesting that an FTC decision may be imminent.

According to published reports, attorneys general in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas and California already are considering filing suit to block the merger if it is passed without serious conditions.


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FDA approves Omontys for kidney disease-related anemia

BY Alaric DeArment

SILVER SPRING, Md. — The Food and Drug Administration has approved a new treatment for anemia in patients with chronic kidney disease.

The FDA announced the approval of Affymax’s Omontys (peginesatide), a drug belonging to the class known as erythropoiesis-stimulating agents, designed to aid the formation of red blood cells.

"Omontys represents the first new FDA-approved and marketed ESA for this condition since 2001," FDA Office of Hematology and Oncology Products director Richard Pazdur said. "This new drug offers patients and healthcare providers the convenience of receiving ESA therapy just once per month instead of more frequent injections."

 


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