Seizing on new study of Part D plans, NCPA urges seniors to choose carefully

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — More than ever, seniors who rely on Medicare need to carefully evaluate the dizzying array of prescription drug plan choices available to them, as the 2011 enrollment period for Medicare Part D drug benefit program goes into high gear, independent pharmacy leaders declared Tuesday.

Faced with the challenge posed by Walmart’s recent launch of a new, low-cost Part D drug plan for Medicare beneficiaries in 2011, in partnership with insurance giant Humana, the National Community Pharmacists Association issued a warning to seniors: look beyond price when making a decision about which Part D plan to sign with for next year. Many independents are clearly concerned over the Humana Walmart-Preferred Rx Plan, which offers Part D beneficiaries a $14.80 monthly plan premium and low co-pays if they obtain their prescriptions from a pharmacy owned and operated by Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

The group cited a new study from health policy consulting firm Avalere Health, which concludes that Medicare beneficiaries still face a dizzying array of choices in drug plans and need to carefully evaluate the pluses and minuses of each before enrolling.

“The study released [today] by Avalere Health underscores the importance for seniors and caregivers of reading the fine print when determining what plan is best for the particular Medicare beneficiary, because some of the headline-grabbing offers might not best meet their medication needs,” NCPA EVP and CEO Kathleen Jaeger said Tuesday.

“Community pharmacists are a valuable resource for patients and caregivers navigating the Medicare Part D prescription drug program maze,” Jaeger pointed out. “More than ever before, a consumer needs to be fully informed about the total prescription drug plan being offered — including deductibles, co-pays and the actual cost of the drug.”

Like her predecessor, NCPA’s new top executive is taking a combative stance vis-a-vis big-box pharmacy rivals. “Sometimes, when something sounds too good to be true, it is,” Jaeger argued. “In some cases, consumers are having their choice of community pharmacies taken away, some plans are pushing mail order pharmacies with 1-800 lines — all of which take the personal interaction out of providing quality care in dispensing medication and corresponding counseling. And, in most cases, the long-established relationships between patients and their community pharmacists are being broken in the quest for a Part D plan to simply increase its market share.

“We can’t let patient care take a back seat to market share,” she added.