Pharmacists To Promote Certain Medicare Prescription Drug Discount Drug Cards
The New Orleans Times-Picayune on Friday examined how local pharmacies' marketing efforts could affect Medicare beneficiaries' selection of prescription drug discount cards when the new drug card program begins next month. According to the Times-Picayune, when Medicare beneficiaries begin enrolling in the program -- created in the new Medicare law to serve as a bridge until the full prescription drug benefit begins in 2006 -- many will turn to their local pharmacies for advice on which card best suits their needs. However, with major pharmacy chains such as CVS and Walgreens offering their own discount cards, beneficiaries may find their local pharmacists "actively marketing certain cards," according to the Times-Picayune. For example, Walgreens stores will carry only applications for the company's own discount card. Independent pharmacists are also expected to promote certain cards. In a recent letter, Bruce Roberts, CEO of the National Community Pharmacists Association, advised member pharmacists that the effort to enroll Medicare beneficiaries in NCPA's own drug discount card program is a "race" that will help "position community pharmacists" for 2006, when private insurers will begin marketing comprehensive health coverage to Medicare beneficiaries. "Our overriding goal is to keep your Medicare patients in your pharmacy," Roberts said in the letter. In addition, NCPA planned to pay pharmacists $12 per beneficiary that signed up for the card until HHS issued an opinion stating that such incentive arrangements might be considered illegal kickbacks. Consumer advocates worry that pharmacists' efforts "might add another layer of complexity to what is already expected to be a confusing process" for Medicare beneficiaries, according to the Times-Picayune. Diane Archer, founder of the Medicare Rights Center, said, "People are very loyal to their pharmacies. You don't want to steer people to a card that doesn't meet their needs" (Walsh, New Orleans Times-Picayune, 4/16).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.