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June 4, 2009
PHARMACISTS SAY: Pharmacists want to be paid more to better manage patients’ care
By helping patients make better choices, pharmacists say they can help save billions
By Bruce Japsen
Drugstore giant Walgreen Co.'s chief executive, Greg Wasson, would like to have his army of "coaches" taking on a greater role for President Barack Obama should the White House and Congress come together to expand health-insurance coverage to the nation's uninsured.
With more than 25,000 pharmacists at Walgreens stores alone, the chief executive of the nation's largest pharmacy chain sees his company's efforts go beyond just filling prescriptions as part of a solution he calls medication therapy management.
By helping patients stick to taking their medications and making better and more cost-effective choices, Wasson believes the country's pharmacists could help save billions of dollars in medical-care costs. That money could be used to provide benefits to more people.
When patients don't take their medications, they can become sicker. It's not uncommon to see them wind up in the hospital, emergency room or in need of a surgery that costs thousands of dollars.
"Fifty percent of patients are non-compliant with their medications after the first four or five months," Wasson said. "That costs the health-care system."
To make medication therapy management work, Wasson said, pharmacies would need to be paid more. Drugstores have long complained about the fees they are paid to dispense drugs, typically from $2 to $4 per dispensed prescription; Walgreens says costs are more than $10 per prescription.
Payments to pharmacies also would need to include the time to provide patient consultations, plus wellness advice and other tips.
Neither Walgreens nor lobbyists for the pharmacy industry are providing specifics on how much drugstores would need. But getting pharmacists more involved has shown to be successful on a small scale. The Midwest Business Group on Health launched a pilot program in 2007 in which pharmacists helped four Chicago employers lower costs for workers with diabetes by more than $1,400 per employee in one year.
The Illinois Pharmacists Association trained about 200 pharmacists to coach diabetics in the program to "enable patients to reach individual goals for medication compliance, fitness and weight management," the Midwest Business Group's program description says.
Direct and indirect costs of diabetes to the U.S. health-care system are more than $130 billion a year and include emergency room visits, hospital stays and absenteeism, the Chicago group said, citing national studies. Given diabetics are on many more medications than the average person who takes drugs, Wasson sees his army of pharmacists being able to rein in costs through medication therapy management across a broad spectrum of ailments and diseases.
"Pharmacists can play a key role," Wasson said. "Pharmacists are the most accessible health-care provider and one of the most trusted professionals next to nurses.