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NACDS Annual Meeting: Industry set to impact health care equation

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PALM BEACH, Fla. — The relationship between pharmacists and their patients is critical to improving Americans’ well-being and making the country’s health care system more efficient, incoming National Association of Chain Drug Stores chairman Larry Merlo told attendees at the association’s Annual Meeting here last month.

“As an industry, we are positioned to help control the costs of health care by advocating for the value of what I’m going to call ‘pharmacy care,’ ” said Merlo, who was recently promoted to president and chief operating officer of CVS Caremark Corp.

“Our strategy for ensuring the use of cost-effective medications is pretty clear: We need to promote adherence and effectiveness. In both areas, current research would suggest there are tremendous gaps.”

With the country’s health care system about to undergo dramatic changes, Merlo says the time has come for community pharmacy to demonstrate the role it can play in controlling costs and improving outcomes.

“If you want to define the health care equation as access, cost and quality, I would offer that our industry, community pharmacy, is in the best position to effectively and positively contribute to all three pillars of that health care equation,” he said.

Some demographic and other factors work in pharmacy’s favor, Merlo pointed out. For example, over the next 15 years, the number of people in the United States over age 65 is projected to increase by 65%. People over 65, he stressed, fill an average of 18 prescriptions a year, almost three times that of a 35-year-old.

Pharmacy sales will also be driven up by the elimination of the Medicare “doughnut hole” and the addition of 32 million people to the ranks of the insured. Preliminary estimates are that when these two provisions could eventually mean community pharmacies will be asked to fill as many as 116 million more prescriptions every year.

Still, Merlo stressed, a number of unanswered questions and significant challenges remain before health care reform can be considered a success.

“Solutions for the critical issue of controlling the costs of health care remain unresolved,” he said. “Very few of the new mechanisms in the reform package will tame health care inflation, and ideas for controlling costs will be in greater demand as access widens. This is where we come into play.”

At the heart of those cost-control efforts, Merlo said, is collaboration between pharmacists and other health care providers on a comprehensive patient care system, to ensure that more patients take their medications as prescribed.

Merlo, who will be NACDS chairman until next year’s Annual Meeting, stressed that the association will play a critical role in the coming years to ensure that community pharmacy becomes an essential component of America’s reformed health care system.

For their part, NACDS officials told Annual Meeting attendees that although health care reform became law earlier this year, the association continues to be vigilant in its efforts to help pharmacy get its due.

“This issue is still in the middle innings,” NACDS president and chief executive officer Steve Anderson said. “The focus now turns to the executive branch for the implementation.

“The administration has a lot of decisions to make as they begin to write the countless regulations over the years that will implement the new law.”

Thanks to its efforts during the run-up to the enactment of health care reform legislation, NACDS has a good grasp of the issues ahead and is well prepared to ensure that community pharmacy plays a key role in the system as it moves forward, Anderson asserted. “Though we need to remain vigilant, we are entering this part of the game in better shape than in the past,” he said.


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