WASHINGTON -- Retailers took a wait-and-see approach in reacting to the landmark Medicare legislation that passed in the U.S. Senate recently. How will the bill's implementation affect pharmacies?
How will seniors perceive pharmacists, who are on the front lines representing health care to customers? How will pharmacists ensure that the seniors receive the benefits of the program? Those were some of the questions on the minds of retail pharmacists polled by SN.
While the bill is "not perfect," John Fegan, vice president, pharmacy, Ahold USA, Chantilly, Va., told SN that "Ahold has gone on record supporting the general concepts of the bill. We're cautiously optimistic and we want to be involved in crafting the final wording." Ahold wants to take part in smoothing out unforeseen hurdles during the implementation phase of the legislation, he said. But for the most part the bill would benefit most seniors, Fegan noted.
"Our concern up front is to see what the discount card would look like, if it would be funded [by the federal government, retailers or manufacturers] and if so, how it would be funded," said Cleve Schwenke, director of pharmacy, Haggen Food and Pharmacy, Bellingham, Wash. "It could have a large impact on us."
The bill would provide 40 million older and disabled Americans a prescription drug benefit, marking the most sweeping changes to the federal health care program since its creation in 1965. The $395 billion measure was awaiting President Bush's signature last week.
Prescription drug coverage would not kick in until 2006, although seniors next year would be able to purchase a discount drug card for $30 a year that would cut their pharmacy bills by 15% to 25%, according to published reports.
Craig Fuller, president and chief executive officer for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, Alexandria, Va., said in a written statement, "Community pharmacy is ready to assist Congress and the administration in implementing legislation that will provide a meaningful prescription drug benefit for the millions of seniors who are our customers and our patients."
The Food Marketing Institute, Washington, urged Congress to pass the bill. "This legislation allows seniors greater choice and convenience wherever they purchase medications. It enables them to fill long-term 90-day prescriptions at their local community pharmacy. It saves them money by speeding the introduction of generic drugs -- a needed change, especially in this time of spiraling drug and health care costs. And it stimulates much-needed increased competition in the health care field," said Tim Hammonds, president and chief executive officer, FMI, in a written statement.
Mike LeBlanc, pharmacy business development manager, Winn-Dixie Stores, Jacksonville, Fla., said that "nobody will be happy with it" if the bill turns into law in its current form. "[However], we're resigned to the fact that something has got to be done."
Fegan said that the bill is "exciting and very new and it's been getting lots of questions at store level, so we need a clear understanding to be able to provide information to our pharmacists and in turn to our customers."