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Chain blasts Bush Rx card plan. (State of the Industry).

DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Walgreen Co. was one of the first and most vocal critics of the Bush administration's proposal to issue a discount drug card to low-income senior citizens, saying soon after the plan was unveiled last summer that it would probably not participate in it.

"We strongly support real Medicare reform with a prescription drug benefit," corporate vice president for health services Dennis O'Dell said, noting that the drug chain could be open to taking the card if the administration dramatically altered its approach.

"But that's not what this is. This attempt at a discount card program is very similar to what's been tried in several states without success. We feel that's the same road that's being traveled here."

The Bush proposal issued last summer called for discount cards for Medicare beneficiaries administered by pharmacy benefits management companies (PBMs) certified by the federal government.

Under the plan the PBMs would have been allowed to charge seniors for the cards (up to a limit of $25 a year), review the feasibility of a community pharmacy to participate in the plan, create drug formularies, and steer seniors to their own mail-order and Internet pharmacies.

O'Dell noted that the program's fundamental flaw was that it created an expectation that seniors would get a substantial break on drug prices when in reality they wouldn't.

While 80% of the retail cost of a prescription is created by manufacturers, he said at the time of the first proposal, the Bush plan would have squeezed discounts out of drug dispensers. Unless overall prescription charges can be reduced, he said, retailers would be able to do very little to save consumers much on the average branded prescription.

Legitimate reform must provide real savings to seniors, asserted O'Dell, and will require the involvement of government, consumers, manufacturers and community pharmacy to develop an effective drug plan for the elderly.

"This program can't be balanced solely on the backs of retailers," he said.

Since that time the Bush plan was blocked from going into effect after a federal court sided with retail pharmacy groups that charged that the administration did not have the authority to institute it, and a number of drug companies have developed their own discount programs, providing low-income seniors with reduced prices on hundreds of their medications.

Last month the Bush Administration reintroduced its proposal in a slightly different form.

The revised plan retains the core of the discount card idea Bush announced last summer and allows Medicare beneficiaries to get "substantial rebates or discounts" from drug manufacturers as well as pharmacies. It differs from a Medicare drug benefit in that it would provide no federal subsidies to patients.

The revised proposal also calls for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to grant a stamp of approval to companies and other organizations that prove they can secure lower prices for large numbers of patients.

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Comment:Chain blasts Bush Rx card plan. (State of the Industry).
Publication:Chain Drug Review
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 29, 2002
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