All posts by Kristen Frasch

Possible Fallout from CVS Caremark-Walgreens Split

If you haven’t heard the news about CVS Caremark and Walgreens yet, you’ve either been asleep or back-packing in some remote forest. Bottom line, the honeymoon between Walgreens and CVS Caremark (post-CVS-Caremark-merger three years ago) — is very much over, if there ever was a honeymoon at all.

For those who have been sleeping or camping, here’s the gist: In a Monday, June 7, letter, Walgreens announces it won’t participate in any new and renewed prescription-drug plans awarded to the CVS Caremark pharmacy-benefit manager because of the way its forces chronic patients to use CVS stores, switches plans to differently priced networks without notification and is unpredictable in how it reimburses Walgreens.

That’s followed by CVS Caremark’s Wednesday, June 9, announcement that the PBM will simply remove Walgreens altogether from its network and start transitioning pharmacy care for all its participants who used Walgreens stores to other participating providers. Youch.

A few other statements follow (you can read the testiness of the whole situation between the lines), such as this statement from Kermit Crawford, executive vice president of pharmacy for Walgreens, assuring the public his company’s move was unavoidable and done in such a way as to hurt the least number of participants possible. (If it’s not still at the top of the news site, scroll down; it’s there.)

And then there’s this comment from the National Community Pharmacists Association, siding with Walgreens and condemning the merger altogether. If you want to check other postings out, just Google the two pharmacy chains. This drama has gone viral.

And it won’t end here, says Michael Polzin, a spokesman for Walgreens. In the next 30 days, “millions of Walgreens customers” will be getting letters telling them they have to find other neighborhood pharmacies to get their CVS Caremark PBM drugs. HR and benefits professionals will be impacted when they come running to them for advice, he adds. Polzin hopes they’ll (you’ll) tell them this wasn’t Walgreens’ fault, that it tried to make “a very necessary move as painless as possible by hanging on to all existing PBM customers,” but that CVS has changed the game. In fact, he says, the relationship between Walgreens and the Caremark PBM (pre-merger) was just fine, thank you, but has “become much more competitive with Walgreens in the last three years.”

CVS, on the other hand, says the impact won’t be that significant since only 7,000 of its (now former) Walgreens stores were among its 64,000 participating pharmacies — and that “when Walgreens is included in the CVS Caremark network, 85.9 percent of members have access to a network pharmacy within three miles of their homes” yet that number only changes to 85.7 percent “when Walgreens is excluded.”

A spokesperson from CVS told me late Friday the PBM “did not make this decision lightly, but [has a] responsibility to our clients and their plan members to balance providing consumer access with managing cost and delivering their pharmacy benefit.” Take note of CVS’ earlier announcement above (I call it the Walgreens head-chop), saying Walgreens was simply making a hard-ball move for more money.

I could — very obviously — go on and on. But I won’t. I could also spend some of your valuable time giving you my spin on the words between the lines and the writing on the walls. I’ll let you do that with all of this.

All I can safely say is this fracas is, by no means, over and I can guarantee you a whole lot of employees are going to have a whole lot of questions in a very short time, and you might want to start thinking about what you’re gonna say.

Wage and Hour Division’s Aggressive Agenda

 The U.S. Department of Wage and Hour Division held a public stakeholders forum on May 21 to lay out its goals and regulatory agenda — and from the looks of the reports I found, employers better stay on their toes ’cause the feds they are a-watchin you, folks.

Noel Tripp, an attorney with one of the employment law firms I quoted in an April 5 news analysis — Jackson Lewis — was in attendance and filed this report. Reads more like a warning to me. At the very least, it seems clear the Department of Labor’s WHD is gearing up to enhance employees’ rights, but not necessarily bend over backwards to help employers do just that in the process.

According to a story posted by Roy Maurer of the Society for Human Resource Management, WHD Deputy Administrator Nancy Leppink started the forum by defending her agency’s March 24 decision to end its long-held practice of issuing opinion letters to employers’ specific questions about compliance (which my news analysis was about). Leppink told those in attendance the practice was dropped because the “cost benefit was not there.”

 Yet, in the same initial greeting, she touted WHD’s “ambitious agenda,” according to Maurer, and listed some of the agency’s more impressive accomplishments, including hiring 250 new investigators (with plans to hire 100 more in 2010) and starting the “We Can Help” campaign, aimed at reaching vulnerable workers who wouldn’t otherwise report violations and noncompliance (this last bit, ala Tripp).

Tripp also offers this parting shot: “Employers must recognize that the newly aggressive WHD is focusing on complance and [will] consider internal or external audits to review wage-and-hour compliance. Employers in traditional low-wage industries must take special notice of the WHD’s initatives.”

I would say ALL employers would be well-advised to open these links I’m providing here and read them very carefully. 

New Target-Date Fund Guidance

In case you didn’t see this latest guidance from the federal government on target-date funds, also known as life-cycle funds, take a look and bookmark!

The guidance, issued jointly by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Security Administration and the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission, is intended to help investors and plan participants understand the operations and risks of target-date fund investments.

For all the new ways the current administration seems to be adding to HR leaders’ administrative responsibilities (double-use of word intended), this guidance truly does appear to make your job a little easier by supplying, in one place, the information you need to help your retirement-plan participants navigate some complicated territory.

Workers are Wearing Your Health on Their Sleeves

Probably pretty intuitive, but definitive nonetheless. A new study from Gallup-Healthways shows people working for employers that are in a hiring mode tend to have brighter outlooks on their own personal lives than those working for companies in the midst of layoffs.

No duh, right? Fair enough. But when you consider that as many as two-thirds (68 percent) of the 20,000 employed adults polled who were working at growing companies said they were thriving in their personal lives versus less than half (49 percent) working at downsizing organizations, it does cause pause to wonder: Is there something more HR can and should be doing during layoffs to help the survivors stave off depression? Translated: absence, loss of productivity, possible long-term disability?? (The ratings, by the way, were based on the Cantril Scale, which many organizations use to determine individual well-being.)

Granted, there’s not a whole lot HR leaders can do with this except maybe drum up even more satisfaction detectors and morale boosters than you already have in place to counter the layoff-survivor blues — or get some going if you have nothing at this point.

But consider this too: Even the simple fact that a reorganizing company is spending time, energy and money to ensure the survivors don’t go into emotional tailspins carries the subliminal message that things there can’t be that bad. Right?

New Law Advisory from the DOL

Just wanted to make sure everyone saw this recent release from the U.S. Department of Labor about a new disability nondiscrimination law advisory — part of its new elaws Web site, an interactive site developed to help employers and employees understand their rights and responsibilities under numerous federal employment laws. Might want to check this stuff out and report back to us with your impressions and feedback! In fact, we’d appreciate it!

Biometric Brouhaha Boiling On

Sentiments from either side of the proposed biometric national ID card debate are getting more and more heated, as this recent story from the Society for Human Resource Management underscores.

Aside from the politics involved in the idea of including the card in an immigration-reform bill, HR professionals are also “casting a wary eye,” according to the story. The ACLU predicts employers could pay as much as $1.2 billion to issue the cards and workers would have to pay $105 to $139 eachto obtain them. Expanded to the entire U.S. workforce, the program could translate to a cost of $285 billion.

ACLU Legislative Counsel Christopher Calabrese tells SHRM the bureaucracy behind such a program “would involve new government offices across the country, tens of thousands of new federal employees and the construction of huge new information-technology systems.”

Other opponents predict long document-presentation lines, inevitable information errors and bureaucratic red tape. Employers “would have to purchase expensive biometric readers, train HR workers to be immigration agents and endure delays in their workforce,” Calabrese says.

But nothing else could be as fraud-proof and sure to enhance homeland security and reduce the number of illegal immigrants living and working here, card proponents say.

My prediction: This cauldron has a heckuva lot more cooking time ahead.

Get Your Wellness Kicks on Route 66

Hey, yet another wellness initiative — this one from a company called Health Enhancement Systems; and this time, on a highway I traveled as a Southern California kid and miss to this day. Have long been yearning a return for a road trip; never really considered walking it. Wonder, though, as these wellness programs take employees further and further away from their work for longer and longer periods, if some HR leaders aren’t getting just a little more apprehensive about looking into them. Just wondering.

Helping Employers Improve Kids’ Mental Health

It’s nice to see the National Business Group on Health continuing to take on workplace challenges that matter with solutions that can make a difference.

Its latest release announcing a new publication designed to help employers improve their child and adolescent behavioral services really caught my eye.

Personally, I know of several families touched by a child in need of help. I also know of several tragedies involving young people who didn’t get the help they needed fast enough. And I also know how a parent’s concern over such a child or adolescent can be so distracting at work it becomes debilitating — so of course, this new guide can only help employers.

 I’d venture to guess that child and adolescent mental-health issues touch most all of us in some way. Kudos to NBGH!!

Trains and Automobiles — but no Planes

As for the High Cost of Travel post, I actually sat in on an HREOnline Webinar on Tuesday with Jackson Lewis’ Michael Lotito as co-presenter and he could only join us by phone because he was stranded in London.

Definitely felt the impact of the ash when he was telling us, before the Webinar began, that Englanders are getting very frustrated over Gordon Brown’s unkept promise of extra ships and trains to get people where they need to go. I guess that wouldn’t have helped Lotito though.