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New services, free meds for diabetics

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NEW YORK —In the world of retailing, nothing speaks to consumers quite so loudly and clearly as the word “free”—as in “free diabetes medications,” one of the newest lures cast by some retail pharmacies to win the loyalty of shoppers with diabetes.

Increasingly in recent years, pharmacy retailers in all retail channels, from traditional drug stores to big-box and supermarket chains, have aggressively courted the diabetic consumer with counseling and disease management services, periodic glucose monitoring, test kit giveaways and discount pricing on commonly prescribed generic medications for controlling the disease. But giving away drugs like metformin is a relatively new development, and thus far, it’s largely the province of supermarket pharmacy.

Price Chopper is the latest to offer free medicines, unveiling in mid-May a new diabetes management program designed to increase patients’ access to medication, support and information. The new offering, called Diabetes Advant-Edge, provides commonly prescribed diabetes medications, such as metformin, glipizide and glyburide, as well as free lancets and lancing devices for monitoring blood sugar.

Price Chopper is one of several supermarket and big-box store operators stepping up their campaigns to ally themselves with the vast population of Americans who either already have diabetes or are at risk for getting it. The company, based in upstate New York, joins a growing list of retailers, including Publix, Giant Eagle and Meijer, which have begun offering free diabetes medicines.

Publix was an early innovator, offering free, fast-release metformin in several dosage strengths and free refills through its Publix Pharmacy Diabetes Management System. Meijer and Giant Eagle unveiled their own medication giveaways for diabetics in April.

“These pharmacies have already been giving away other prescription medications, such as common antibiotics,” noted Bill Quick, a physician who writes for the Web sites HealthCentral. com and MyDiabetesCentral.com. “They have reached the business decision that they can give away inexpensive prescription drugs as a loss-leader to drive more traffic to their stores.”

It’s the kind of venture that will cost those chains some top-line revenues, but given the fact that diabetic patients spend two to three times as much at their local pharmacy each year as do those without the condition—estimates run as high as $2,500 or $3,000—the giveaways make economic, as well as altruistic, sense.

That’s especially true for food/drug combo stores. With their vast potential for tailoring food offerings and healthy eating choices to the dietary needs of different customer segments, supermarkets like Price Chopper—already one of the industry’s real innovators in healthy-eating choices and nutritional awareness programs—have an opportunity to build new and powerful connections with their customers. And building loyalty with the diabetic consumer pays even higher long-term dividends.

Drug store chains also have stepped up their high-profile efforts on behalf of diabetic patients. CVS Caremark offers a slew of services and discounted products, including free home delivery through its CVS Diabetes Care Club and ExtraCare Advantage for Diabetes membership program, and bills itself as “America’s fastest-growing supplier of diabetic testing supplies, with thousands of new members joining every month.”

In May, CVS/pharmacy joined with Ian Smith and the “50 Million Pound Challenge” to help patients with diabetes lose weight and better control their disease. “Consistent monitoring is critical for diabetes patients, particularly for those who have related health issues like elevated cholesterol and high blood pressure,” said Troyen Brennan, chief medical officer for CVS Caremark.

Walgreens also is adding new store-based initiatives, such as Walgreens Optimal Wellness, a self-care education program launched early this year. The initial focus: patients with Type 2 diabetes. “The core of the approach features Walgreens healthcare providers, including community pharmacists and Take Care nurse practitioners, leading a program of individual health coaching and diabetes counseling,” the company noted.

Last month, Walgreens and the YMCA teamed up with insurance and healthcare giant UnitedHealth Group to steer the group’s members toward healthier lifestyles and help them prevent or successfully manage diabetes. (More on the new Diabetes Prevention and Control Alliance can be found on page 101.)

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