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Take a health plan and call me in the morning: Pharmacies plan Obamacare pitch

pharmacy Eva Russo for The Washington Post

Come October, your local pharmacist might be doling out more than pills and prescriptions. She might be explaining federal policies -- and what they mean for consumers.

Major pharmacy chains are preparing plans for promoting the Affordable Care Act and educating consumers about their options under the health law overhaul.

Part of it has to do with customer service: If patients turn up at the pharmacy counter with questions, it would behoove pharmacists to have answers. But it's not a completely altruistic effort, as higher insured rates make it easier for pharmacy customers to pay for their prescriptions.

"To the extent that 25 million more Americans get insurance and they will fill their prescriptions, that is certainly a good thing for our company," says Helena Foulkes, CVS-Caremark's chief health care strategy and marketing officer.

On Thursday, CVS announced a new campaign to educate consumers about the Affordable Care Act; it will include handouts for customers and events targeting shoppers in areas where uninsured rates are high.

CVS's efforts come on the heels of actions taken by Walgreens, which developed a partnership with the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association to teach consumers about new options, which will open for enrollment on Oct. 1.

“Walgreens is a trusted community resource for health and wellness information, and through this collaboration we hope the millions of Americans who will be entering the marketplace in October are more informed and better prepared,” Brad Fluegel, Walgreens' senior vice president and chief strategy officer, said in a statement earlier this month.

Small community pharmacists may also get into the game. The National Alliance of Community Pharmacists is working on informational "bag stuffers," about the size of a bookmark, that could be dropped into a shopper's prescription.

"It would be very basic consumer-oriented things, a lot state by state," says spokesman Kevin Schweers. "It could include things people are hearing about or some basic questions. That's more or less the tone of it."

Both NCPA and CVS are exploring ways to take advantage of navigators, individuals whom the government is currently training to help shoppers pick the most suitable health coverage.

"There is potential for a pharmacy technician to become certified as a navigator," Schweers says. "They know their patient base and could be a good resource. We'll be getting them information about the navigator program."

CVS is taking a slightly different approach: The 7,400-store chain plans to open its doors to local navigators, rather than have their workers certified. A store might set up a stand near the pharmacy counter, for example, where a navigator can talk to patients who are paying for  prescriptions with cash.

"The beauty of the CVS environment is that people are in our stores several times a month," CVS's Foulkes says. "Maybe I come into the store and I notice one of the pamphlets and take one home. The pharmacist might say, 'I noticed you paid cash. Do you want to think about insurance?' The next time, I see a navigator and have a more lengthy conversation."

Don't expect to see changes immediately. Schweers says his group probably won't put out any materials until closer to open enrollment in October. The same goes for CVS, which has previously tried early outreach to seniors for Medicare Part D enrollment. It didn't quite work.

"Our experience in Medicare is people aren't interested in finding information until they can actually take action," Foulkes says. "I worked on our program in 2006, and we got out very early but didn't see much traction until the date. That's when you get to a point of action."

KLIFF NOTES: Top health policy reads from around the Web. 

Will young adults in Portland buy health coverage? Let's ask them! "Interviews here with more than two dozen single workers of modest income between 24 and 31 years old suggest that insurance plans will be a hard sell. Subsidies for 26-year-old workers range from $118 a month for someone earning under $16,000 to less than $1 a month for one earning $26,500, according to an analysis of insurance data. For Mr. Meiffren, the cheapest available insurance plan he could buy with the subsidies would cost him $116 a month, with a $6,350 annual deductible. His subsidy would total $14 a month, based on his $25,000 annual income." Christopher Weaver and Louis Radnofsky in the Wall Street Journal

Republicans are fighting over whether to defund Obamacare. "The debate is happening behind closed doors and over Senate lunches, as well as during a frank meeting Wednesday with House leaders in Speaker John Boehner’s suite where fresh concerns were aired about the party’s strategy. On Thursday, the dispute began to spill into public view, most notably when three Senate Republicans — including Minority Whip John Cornyn — withdrew their signatures from a conservative letter demanding defunding Obamacare as a condition for supporting the government funding measure." Manu Raju and Jake Sherman in Politico

Obamacare scammers are getting shut down. "Consumer advocates and federal health officials say they're on the lookout for Affordable Care Act scams and opportunists. This week, WHYY/NewsWorks has been monitoring a website from a health insurance broker in Willow Grove that could have easily been confused for a government site. On Tuesday, featured a logo that looked a lot like the Seal of Pennsylvania. The website said 'Welcome to the Pennsylvania Health Exchange!' a 'hub for all your health insurance needs.'" Taunya English in WHYY.



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