Drug chains and independent communitypharmacies planning to provideMedicare patients with informationabout their options under theprogram's new Part D prescription drugprogram will have to walk a regulatorytightrope if they have contractual linksto any prescription drug plan sponsor.
Final new rules issued by the Centersfor Medicare and Medicaid Services(CMS) allow pharmacists to"make available plan marketing materials"at the prescription counter andto "display posters or other materialsannouncing the contractual relationshipbetween the plan and theprovider." Yet, although the new rulespermit providers to "help [beneficiaries]choose the plan that best meetstheir needs," pharmacists "cannotsteer beneficiaries to a plan to furthertheir own financial interests."
The new standards also will place anumber of other restrictions on themarketing of competing prescriptioncoverage plans when the Medicarebenefit takes effect on January 1, 2006.The rules, which CMS officials say aredesigned "to protect beneficiaries fromunscrupulous or overzealous sales tactics," prohibit prescription drug plansfrom marketing their prescription coverageprograms with door-to-door salescalls or unsolicited e-mails.
Additionally, promoters of theseplans that market by phone must complywith the National Do Not Call Registryand honor "do not call again" requests from patients.
Promoters found in violation of theCMS rules could face fines or be blacklistedfrom participating in the newprescription drug program.
Officials at the National CommunityPharmacists Association (NCPA) raisedconcerns that the new CMS marketingrules could create barriers that maymake it difficult for independent pharmaciststo help seniors decide on thebest prescription drug plans for theirneeds. A spokesman for NCPA said thatthe association will "work to ensurethat these complex guidelines, and theenforcement mechanisms provided inthe final rules, do not have a chillingeffect on the ability of pharmacists toprovide even, accurate, approved, unbiasededucational information."
Mr. Rankin is a freelance medical writer.