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SureScripts, RxHub to join forces


ALEXANDRIA, Va. and , ST. PAUL, Minn. —Relations between pharmacy benefit managers and retail pharmacies have not always conjured images of close cooperation and partnership. But in a breakthrough business deal that could propel the nationwide adoption of electronic prescribing, the nation’s retail pharmacies and leading PBMs have formalized a merger of the country’s two leading health information networks.

The deal, announced July 1, brings together SureScripts, the e-prescribing platform provider owned by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and the National Community Pharmacists Association, and RxHub, which was created by the PBM industry and is jointly owned by CVS Caremark, Express Scripts and Medco Health Solutions. Both organizations were formed in 2001 to foster the adoption of e-prescribing by retail pharmacies, pharmacy networks, physicians and technology vendors.

The agreement marks a remarkable level of fence-mending between two organizations that have competed for electronic networking contracts over the last seven years. In a joint statement, both groups call the merger “the single most significant advance to the accuracy, efficiency and quality of information associated with the 4 billion prescriptions written annually in the United States.”

Under terms of the deal, the organizations will consolidate their operations, forming a single, secure, nationwide network for e-prescriptions and the exchange of health information. Initially, the new organization will be jointly managed by the acting chief executive officer of RxHub, J.P. Little, and the acting chief executive officer of SureScripts, Rick Ratliff. The new board has begun a process to select a chief executive officer and has retained Spencer Stuart to conduct a nationwide search.

The merger, said leaders of both companies, will streamline the adoption of e-prescribing for physicians and technology vendors, giving them a single network and a common link to the nation’s dispensing pharmacies. It will also be complementary, they said, combining the best capabilities of both firms: RxHub’s “expertise in patient identification and delivering drug benefit information to the physician at the point of care, and “SureScripts’ focus on electronic prescription routing from the physician’s office to the pharmacy.”

“The merger combines these strengths with a shared focus on more access to patient medication history to form a single suite of comprehensive services,” noted SureScripts and RxHub jointly.

In 2008, the combined organization expects to transmit 100 million electronic prescription transactions and respond to more than 70 million requests by physicians confirming information about their patients’ drug coverages and medication histories. Assuming patients give consent, the merged companies will extend this information to clinicians caring for more than 200 million patients across the United States, SureScripts and RxHub predicted.

In an interview with Drug Store News, Little and Ratliff expressed enthusiasm about the merger and its potential to rapidly accelerate the rollout of paperless prescribing. “We’ve been working on this a long time, bringing together the PBM and retail pharmacy industries. This is a merger of equals,” Little said, “and it’s in the best interests of accelerating the adoption of electronic prescribing and improving healthcare information technology.”

Added Ratliff, “It’s a giant step toward our objective of getting to a paperless prescribing system nationwide.

“The key for us is to make this as efficient and streamlined as possible” for physicians, technology vendors, PBMs and pharmacies, he said.

Under terms of the merger, both companies will assume 50 percent ownership in the new venture, which will be run as a limited liability corporation. Serving as co-chairmen of the six-member board of directors will be Bruce Roberts, executive vice president and chief executive officer of NCPA, and John Driscoll, president of new markets for Medco. The combined company, which for the time being will be called SureScripts-RxHub, will maintain offices in Alexandria and St. Paul.

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