Posts Tagged ‘Flu shots’

Walgreens: One-Stop Shopping for Healthcare Insurance

Monday, August 15th, 2011

The nation’s largest drugstore chain is planning to begin selling health insurance this fall.  Walgreens, which operates 7,742 drugstores in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, will sell health insurance products with different price ranges and coverage levels nationally through a private health insurance exchange.

According to Walgreens officials, “As always, we’re looking at a number of options in light of healthcare reform as we continue to seek ways to help our customers better navigate today’s healthcare system.”  Health reform mandates the creation of federal and state-funded public health insurance exchanges by 2014 that will offer subsidized insurance for people who lack insurance. Multiple companies, many not typically associated with health insurance, are also expected to jump into the embryonic but lucrative market for health insurance exchanges — estimated to be worth billions of dollars — prior to 2014.  These include retailers, financial services providers and a major payroll processer that are actively planning to create their own private health insurance exchanges.  Walgreens neither confirmed nor denied the report,  but it’s expected that the insurance plans will be available online, in-store or via call centers and will be branded by national insurers in some instances.  Walgreens currently offers flu shots and vaccinations at its “take care clinics” so this new move is seen as a bid to become a one-stop shop for healthcare needs.

The investment banking firm TripleTree,  which focuses on the healthcare and technology market, estimates that between 2014 and 2019, as many as 36 million Americans will buy their health insurance from exchanges.  “For retailers, (creating a private insurance exchange) is a way to generate more revenue from a new business,” Chris Hoffman, TripleTree’s chief marketing officer, said.  “Those companies that get their exchanges up and running before 2014 could also succeed in stealing customers away from the public exchanges.”.

Hoffman pointed out one crucial distinction between public and private health insurance exchanges.  Consumers who qualify for government subsidies can participate only in public exchanges, and not private exchanges.  Still, Hoffman said that private exchanges will attempt to stay competitive with public exchanges by offering other incentives to join, such as loyalty programs that tie in discounts and bundling other types of insurance like life insurance along with their health insurance products.

By entering into a partnership with some of the nation’s biggest health insurers, selling health insurance is a natural evolution in Walgreens’ process of becoming a one-stop shopping destination for all healthcare needs.  Some forms of insurance will be branded by national insurers and others will be “private label” insurance products sold through Walgreens’ exchange.

Writing on the bizmology website, Alexandra Biesada says that “I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s true.  Walgreen has rushed to fill gaps in our nation’s fractured healthcare system, opening hundreds of in-store Take Care Clinics, worksite healthcare centers and by offering a slew of healthcare services, including immunizations and counseling for chronic conditions, such as diabetes.  It also provides products and services to pharmacy patients and prescription drug and medical plans through its Walgreens Health Services unit.  Already a leader in healthcare services, offering health insurance is a logical next step for Walgreen.  With the ranks of the uninsured and underinsured swelling, consumers are being steered to health insurance exchanges under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka the healthcare reform bill) passed into law in March 2010.  In addition to the creation of federal and state-sponsored health insurance exchanges, the private sector, including retailers such as Walgreen, is expected to enter the market.  While only consumers enrolled in government-sponsored exchanges are eligible for subsidies, privately-sponsored exchanges could still be competitive by offering subscribers other incentives to join their network.  Some retailers, Sam’s Club comes to mind, already offer select customer groups services, including group health insurance.  So the idea of buying coverage from a retailer, rather than through an employer or broker, isn’t unprecedented.  Walgreen has moved quickly to capitalize on the transformation of our healthcare system and is looking for growth opportunities beyond its vast network of retail stores.”

Preparing for the Next Pandemic

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

Department of Health and Human Services plans to ramp up vaccine production to stem next flu pandemic. Now that the H1N1 swine flu pandemic has officially come to an end, the federal government is planning to change the way it works with companies to counteract new disease threats. Proposed actions include reforming the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and creating centers that will make vaccines available more quickly than was possible previously. According to a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) report, the nation’s ability to respond to pandemics is too slow and that changes must be made. The report also contains a plan to help researchers and biotech firms bring new drugs and vaccines to the market in record time.

“At a moment when the greatest danger we face may be a virus we have never seen before…we don’t have the flexibility to adapt,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. The report promotes clearer guidance to industry regarding the kinds of tests need to achieve regulatory approval of new drugs and vaccines, something the pharmaceutical industry has requested. The FDA plans to establish teams to expedite this process. Additionally, HHS and the Department of Defense plan to establish the Centers for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing, according to the report.

“These centers will provide assistance to industry and government by advancing state-of-the-art, disposable, modular manufacturing process technologies,” the report says. “Finally, in public health emergencies, these centers may augment existing United States manufacturing surge capacity against emerging infectious diseases or unknown threats, including pandemic influenza.”

Dr. Harold Varmus, who wrote a separate report from the Presidential Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, said “Accelerated delivery of vaccines by even a few weeks can mean saving tens of thousands of lives. Sebelius noted that the government has not invested adequately in “regulatory science” – studying the optimal means to test new products. “Because of this under-investment, we are often testing and producing cutting-edge products using science that is decades old. We are also going to reach out to product developers earlier in the process so they know what to expect,” Sebelius said.

WHO Officially Bids Farewell to H1N1 Pandemic

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

After 18,449 deaths, swine flu pandemic is pronounced to be at the end.  The H1N1 flu pandemic is officially at an end, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).  The announcement came months after many nations canceled vaccine orders and shut down telephone hotlines as the illness disappeared from the headlines.  Margaret Chan, the WHO’s director, said that the pandemic had “largely run its course” and that the phase six alert – the highest influenza level – is officially at an end.  “I fully agree with the committee’s advice,” Chan said.  At present, the virus is in the “post-pandemic” phase, meaning disease activity has returned to levels normally seen for seasonal flu bugs.

Chan cautioned against complacency, noting that “It is likely that the virus will continue to cause serious disease in younger age groups”, she said and urged high-risk individuals such as pregnant women to be vaccinated against the disease.  A total of 18,449 people have died across the globe since the H1N1 flu first appeared in April of 2009.  Chan defended her decision to declare swine flu a pandemic, saying it was based on the globally agreed rules that were in place at the time.  “We have been aided by pure good luck,” she said, noting that if the virus had mutated, the death rate would have soared.  Angus Nicoll, flu program coordinator with the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, said the declaration that the pandemic had ended was consistent with the Stockholm-based organization’s views.

An interesting point is that while reports of flu in the northern hemisphere are at seasonal lows, nations in the southern hemisphere (where it is currently winter) show few people are seriously ill with swine flu, Nicoll said.  Still, healthcare workers should get ready for a new seasonal flu that will combine elements of the pandemic H1N1 strain, the older H3N2 strain and additional lesser strains, according to Nicoll, who said “It looks sort of middle of the road at the moment.”

“Lurking in the background we still have H5N1,” Chan said in a reference to the bird flu that has sickened 503 people over seven years and killed 299 of them.  Chan’s advice for the future is for people to get their usual seasonal flu shot this fall to protect against the disease.