PHARMACISTS KEY TO MEDICARE TRANSITION, SAYS MCCLELLAN

SAN DIEGO -- Pharmacists have been, and will continue to be, crucial in the health of patients as the Medicare Modernization Act takes effect, said Mark McClellan, administrator, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Baltimore."One of the things that is very clear in this process is that pharmacists matter a lot. For all of our work at Medicare, and with outside groups to get the word out, one

SAN DIEGO -- Pharmacists have been, and will continue to be, crucial in the health of patients as the Medicare Modernization Act takes effect, said Mark McClellan, administrator, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Baltimore.

"One of the things that is very clear in this process is that pharmacists matter a lot. For all of our work at Medicare, and with outside groups to get the word out, one of the single most important places that beneficiaries have been finding out about the drug card program is right there at the drug store counter from their trusted pharmacist," McClellan said in remarks directed at attendees of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores Pharmacy & Technology conference held here at the end of August.

Over 40 million Medicare beneficiaries are utilizing the drug card program, McClellan said. Research released recently by the Lewin Group, Falls Church, Va., indicated that for beneficiaries who enroll in the program for its duration, 18 months, the savings will be an average of $1,250 off their drug costs, he said.

In spite of the savings available, there are many more beneficiaries who either haven't heard about it or have received bad information, he added.

"All of you are making a real difference already in the health of seniors under the new Medicare law, not just because of your discussions with us, but because of the actions that you are taking," McClellan remarked.

Retail pharmacies will continue to play an important role as part of a new CMS grass-roots campaign that includes new advertising and new features on the CMS Web site designed to make the drug discount program easier for patients to use, he said, and asked for renewed help in spreading information to beneficiaries as part of the new effort.

"We need your help in making sure that the facts get known, that the cards are providing real and substantial savings, and that there are easy ways, starting with calling 1-800-MEDICARE or talking with your pharmacist, to find out just how much you can save at your own preferred pharmacy," he said.

In moving forward with the Medicare Modernization Act, McClellan asked for pharmacists to partner with CMS and keep the channels open for discussion on other Medicare benefits as they did with the drug cards. In particular, McClellan called for pharmacist input for the implementation of the Medicare law over the next year.

"When I say I want to talk about implementing the new Medicare law, what I mean is we want to talk about improving health care. That's the bottom line," he said.

Improving health care will include a number of specific areas of focus, McClellan said, including generics and electronic prescribing in addition to the many pieces of the Medicare Act itself.

McClellan asked that pharmacists participate in the public comment period for Title 1 and Title II of the Medicare Modernization Act, which includes the prescription drug benefit. The comment period extends through the fall.

"No one knows better than America's pharmacists about how much more health care has to offer since Medicare was enacted four decades ago," McClellan said.