Healthcare reform, pharmacy services top agenda at McKesson conference

July 22, 2009

Orlando, Fla.? National health care reform and the growth of generic drugs were the top issues noted by McKesson U.S. Pharmaceutical executives during this week's pharmacy strategies conference here.

Orlando, Fla. - National healthcare reform and the growth of generic drugs were the top issues addressed by McKesson U.S. Pharmaceutical executives during this week’s pharmacy strategies conference here.

During the opening session, independent pharmacists who packed the meeting room at the Gaylord Palms Resort were urged to take advantage of new technologies and programs to grow their businesses. While McKesson executives and the pharmaceutical industry support President Obama’s efforts to reform U.S. healthcare, they want pharmacists to receive fair reimbursements for the medications they dispense.

“We definitely agree that all Americans should have access to healthcare. What we are challenged with is, how are we going to pay for it and who is going to pay for it?” said Paul Julian, executive vice president and group president, McKesson Corp. Some experts estimate that the reform proposal would funnel an additional 20 million to 60 million prescriptions into the healthcare system.

“If there is an increase in script count, that will be great for business. But we are trying to figure out how McKesson customers can get their fair share when that takes place,” said John Figueroa, president, McKesson U.S. Pharmaceutical. Washington legislators should not be debating whether pharmacists will be reimbursed for medications; they should simply increase reimbursements to pharmacists, Figueroa said.

In addition, pharmacists should ensure that their interests are taken into account in the healthcare debate this time around. “Don’t underestimate how powerful your voice can be. They do care more about the local community pharmacist,” Julian said.

McKesson executives also talked about areas of the retail pharmacy business that will continue to grow in the future, such as generic prescriptions.

“Generics has healthy margins associated with it [and] generics is now about 70 percent of all [our pharmacists’] scripts that are filled,” Julian said.

New programs and technologies

As pharmacies’ overall rates for prescriptions filled dropped 1.3 percent last year, technology solutions, sponsored clinical services, and retail best practices have become critical to the future success of the independent pharmacy business, Figueroa told pharmacists.

“I challenge you to think more about these areas and focus more on them than you ever have in the past,” he said. Implementation of pharmacy-based adherence programs and medication therapy management (MTM) programs are two effective ways pharmacists can grow their prescription business.

“There is no question that margins are shrinking, so our focus is to get you the best reimbursements we can, but also to get you new sources of revenue. [Our focus is] to make sure we can tap into manufacturers and payors, so they pay you for the services you provide every day,” Figueroa said.

For example, McKesson’s adherence-counseling pilot program, which was launched last year, has already proved successful. The pharmacies in the “Pharmacy Intervention Program,” which includes pharmacists counseling patients about chronic COPD/respiratory drug therapy, saw an average increase in refill rates of more than 36 percent through the fifth fill.

Some pharmacists in the pilot project counseled patients undergoing a 90-day program of drug therapy for smoking cessation and realized nearly a 30 percent increase in refill rates. The participating pharmacists were reimbursed by manufacturers for conducting five-minute intervention sessions with patients to improve their adherence to prescribed drug regiments.

“The reimbursable counseling sessions are not only a new source of revenue, but are also helping my patients be more committed to their regimen, more effective in managing their therapy, and more loyal to my pharmacy,” said Richard Walker, RPh, owner of Palace Health Mart Pharmacy in Globe, Ariz.

McKesson’s pharmacy customers are also realizing profitable results through its MTM pilot program, which started in March, 2008. More than 50 pharmacies in Wisconsin are using McKesson’s software and services, and some are earning as much as $800 a month in MTM reimbursements from payors. According to Figueroa, implementation of new technologies is essential to the future success of pharmacies. For example, McKesson recently migrated 5,000 retail pharmacy stores to its new web-based ordering and communications portal, McKesson Connect.

The aim of the new technology is to provide pharmacies with a customized online experience that gives them real-time order and inventory status, customized recall and back-order alerts, and other services. McKesson also urged pharmacists to implement central fill technologies, which can save pharmacists time, enabling them to focus on patient care and “save up to 25 percent in labor and inventory costs,” according to a statement from McKesson. The wholesaler recently started a pilot central-fill program with an independent pharmacy in Southern California.