Drug chains and independent community pharmacies planning to provide Medicare patients with information about their options under the program's new Part D prescription drug program will have to walk a regulatory tightrope if they have contractual links to any prescription drug plan sponsor.
Final new rules issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) allow pharmacists to "make available plan marketing materials" at the prescription counter and to "display posters or other materials announcing the contractual relationship between the plan and the provider." Yet, although the new rules permit providers to "help [beneficiaries] choose the plan that best meets their needs," pharmacists "cannot steer beneficiaries to a plan to further their own financial interests."
The new standards also will place a number of other restrictions on the marketing of competing prescription coverage plans when the Medicare benefit takes effect on January 1, 2006. The rules, which CMS officials say are designed "to protect beneficiaries from unscrupulous or overzealous sales tactics," prohibit prescription drug plans from marketing their prescription coverage programs with door-to-door sales calls or unsolicited e-mails.
Additionally, promoters of these plans that market by phone must comply with the National Do Not Call Registry and honor "do not call again" requests from patients.
Promoters found in violation of the CMS rules could face fines or be blacklisted from participating in the new prescription drug program.
Officials at the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) raised concerns that the new CMS marketing rules could create barriers that may make it difficult for independent pharmacists to help seniors decide on the best prescription drug plans for their needs. A spokesman for NCPA said that the association will "work to ensure that these complex guidelines, and the enforcement mechanisms provided in the final rules, do not have a chilling effect on the ability of pharmacists to provide even, accurate, approved, unbiased educational information."
Mr. Rankin is a freelance medical writer.