A year full of hot issues
As the industry geared up for this year’s National Association of Chain Drug Stores Annual Meeting, Drug Store News talked with NACDS president and CEO Steve Anderson about the hottest issues facing pharmacy and his thoughts on the 2012 presidential election.
Drug Store News: What do you think will be the hot-button issues that will be top of mind at this year’s Annual Meeting?
Steve Anderson: I think the major topic of discussion will be the work that NACDS has been doing as it relates to the proposed Express Scripts and Medco merger. We have a Federal Trade Commission decision that came out and … we have now filed a lawsuit in district court in Pittsburgh with [the National Community Pharmacists Association] in order to block that. … We have a lot going on with the implementation of the healthcare-reform bill with a new AMP rule. … We will be electing new members to our board of directors, and we will have a passing of the gavel. … I don’t want anybody to miss the fact that we are really saluting that leadership, particularly this year, with Bob Loeffler being in the chair when we had some amazing challenges facing this industry. He has been the right person at the right place at the right time. … At the same time, we have new leadership coming in with Greg Wasson with Walgreens as our incoming chairman, who I think is one of the great innovators in the industry.
DSN: This year’s RxImpact Day recently came to a close. What do you think are the critical policy issues that the industry needs to remain focused on?
Anderson: This was the best RxImpact Day we’ve had. It was our fourth annual … and we had more than 350 appointments with Congressional offices on both the Senate and the House side. … We have a message to tell, and we have a very committed group of members at NACDS who want to tell that message. … What is driving that passion is some really, really big issues that NACDS is working on. One is this Express Scripts-Medco merger, which will drive customers out of the stores of our member companies, [as well as] the PBM practices we are seeing, and we are very engaged in promoting legislation in both the federal and the state level on those issues. We also are working on and have legislation that is called the Pharmacy Competition and Consumer Choice Act that we are promoting. [And] we are focusing on a proactive message in terms of medication adherence and [MTM], and we have legislation there. And government, … both at the federal and state levels, is trying to reduce healthcare costs, and we are seeing that in the Tricare program; … they are pushing people into mail and away from retail pharmacy. … So there are a multitude of issues that we we’re working on, and that energizes our members. It is worth the investment for them to come to Washington to meet with our members of Congress.
DSN: In 2013, the Total Store Expo will debut. How will NACDS Annual fit in with TSE.
Anderson: I think it will have a very positive impact in how we are handling our meetings. We are continuing our Regional Chain Conference, which is very important, in the first part of February. … We are continuing, obviously, with the Annual Meeting, which is very successful, and we think that the Total Store Expo will be a great fit in those meetings. I don’t think we are taking anything away from the Marketplace Conference, the Pharmacy and Technology Conference, and the Supply Chain and Logistics Conference that are being rolled into the Total Store Expo. Our goal is not to lose what people like about those three meetings, but to put them together where they can have their own identity, but also benefit from the further engagement of the entire industry.
DSN: What do you think the 2012 elections will mean for the industry?
Anderson: I have been in Washington for quite a long time and have been doing association work for 32 years, … and I’ve never seen a more frustrating and gridlocked government as I have seen over the last two to five years. … I think it is critical from the country’s perspective, and I think it is very critical for the pharmacy perspective. I think we saw this gridlock with this FTC decision with the Express Scripts-Medco merger. … I find it rather interesting, and I guess concerning, that we have to sue various agencies, like we sued CMS on AMP, when they have a tendency to go off and write proposed regulations that don’t have any bearing on the law. And that is what we did with the previous AMP rule, and it’s pretty clear that the FTC did not take into consideration our arguments on the lack of competition that will result because of this merger. And then we have to go into federal court and sue, which we are not happy to do but we will do it if we are not finding the results that we need for the industry. So I think this election is absolutely critical, and I think it is going to be absolutely fascinating.
DSN: What do you think the U.S. Supreme Court hearings on the fate of Obamacare will mean for the industry?
Anderson: I think those that supported the healthcare law thought that it would be pretty clear sailing coming through. I think, as a result of listening to the questions that the justices asked, [that] there has been quite a pivot there in terms of whether this will be upheld or ruled unconstitutional. … I have been watching the Supreme Court for quite some time and just because justices ask certain questions doesn’t mean that they are going to rule on a case the way that their questions might indicate. … I think that it will be interesting to watch, particularly with the election, and this decision coming out. … It just drives the passion and the furor on both sides of the argument, and depending on where it ends up — whether they rule it unconstitutional or not — it will be a big issue in this presidential campaign.
Two strategies for managing anemia in hepatitis C patients work equally well, Merck says
BARCELONA, Spain — Merck is testing two means of treating patients with chronic hepatitis C for anemia, a common side effect of certain treatments for the viral infection, the drug maker said.
Merck announced results of a phase-3 study comparing two strategies for managing anemia and how they affect the curing of hepatitis C in patients taking Victrelis (boceprevir) with Pegintron (peginterferon alfa-2b) and ribavirin.
The drug maker took a group of 500 patients and divided it roughly in half, giving one half the anemia treatment erythropoietin while reducing the ribavirin dosage of the other half. In both groups, patients had a viral cure rate of 71%.
"Chronic hepatitis C regimens with peginterferon alfa and ribavirin are commonly associated with the development of anemia, and this effect is further increased with the addition of Victrelis," Cedars-Sinai Medical Center chief of hepatology and liver transplantation Fred Poordad said. "The results of this study show there was no difference in [cure] rates among these anemia management strategies and that ribavirin dose reduction should be the primary strategy for managing anemia in patients taking Victrelis combination therapy."
CDC: Measles on the rise
ATLANTA — Despite achieving measles elimination in 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in its "Morbidity and Morality Weekly Report" that a total of 222 measles cases and 17 measles outbreaks were reported to the CDC last year, compared with a median of 60 cases and four outbreaks reported annually during the 2001-2010 period.
In the United States, the incidence of measles has reached a 15-year high, the CDC said.
"The increase in measles importations and outbreaks during 2011 serves as a reminder that measles remains endemic in many parts of the world and unvaccinated U.S. residents continue to place themselves and others in their communities at risk for measles and its complications," the MMWR said. The report added that the importation of measles is caused by U.S. travelers, particularly to the World Health Organization European Region, which reported more than 30,000 cases of measles, including 27 cases of measles encephalitis, a complication that often results in permanent neurologic sequelae, as well as eight measles-related deaths in 2011.
The CDC also noted that healthcare providers play a critical role in preventing measles and should should encourage vaccination of all eligible patients, including children and adults.
Click here for the full report.