HHS rolls out prescription drug partnership with major retailers

During a week in which the future of Medicare has dominated the presidential campaign, the Health and Human Services Department on Wednesday rolled out a new prescription drug education campaign for seniors in partnership with five national retail chains.

In a conference call with reporters, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius joined with an executive from CVS Caremark in Jacksonville, Fla., to announce that the chain -- along with Walgreens, Thrifty White, Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club -- will use its marketing know-how to “help people with Medicare learn more about new preventive services such as mammograms and the new annual wellness visits that are available at no charge for everyone with Medicare.”

Local pharmacies such as those at CVS’ 7,300 drugstores and 600 MinuteClinics nationwide “are the most effective messengers to seniors who don’t realize the available savings” in prescription drugs under the 2010 Affordable Care Act as well as medical procedures such as colonoscopies and flu shots without deductibles or co-payments, Sebelius said. CVS Caremark, she added, has distributed some 750,000 brochures promoting the benefits, and other pharmaceutical chains are expected to follow suit, taking advantage of communications opportunities online.

“Today under the Affordable Care Act, seniors no longer have to make that terrible choice, but can choose care based on health needs, not on what it costs,” Sebelius said, citing 1.3 million beneficiaries of wellness benefits and 5.3 million seniors who have received government help with prescription drug expenses after they’ve spent enough on medicine to enter the so-called donut hole in insurance coverage. The secretary also praised HHS for recovering a record $4 billion in fraudulent health billing in 2011, up 59 percent from the previous year.

“It’s the latest example of how the Affordable Care Act keeps America’s promise by strengthening Medicare, not gutting it,” she said. “That’s different from the plan put forward by some Republicans in Washington that would roll back all of these benefits and end Medicare as we know it.”

An HHS spokeswoman said the new retailer partnership and its Wednesday rollout were planned months before Medicare exploded as a campaign issue with presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s pick of Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., as a running mate.

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