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Retail Health Clinics Start Shop

Massachusetts health officials are all set to oil the wheels of retail-based medical clinics. Accordingly, they will propose new regulations to allow for the operation of these clinics . They vouch that the move could also encourage not-for-profit hospitals, community health centers and businesses to expand basic medical services.

The proposed changes were triggered by a recent application by CVS Caremark Corp. to open a retail clinic, MinuteClinic, in one of its stores in Weymouth - a first of its kind in the state.

Yet, current regulations do not cover the operation of retail clinics. Says Secretary of Health and Human Services JudyAnn Bigby:"Rather than considering applications that require numerous waivers, we believe we should consider an alternative set of regulations that, if approved, will make the application process for operating limited service medical clinics transparent to any entity that feels they have a role in their community. The move will allow not-for-profit hospitals, community health centers and others to expand the provision of basic health services through such facilities, according to the statement.

There are about 500 retail-based health clinics nationwide, according to Carolyn Castel, spokeswoman for CVS Caremark Corp., the parent company for MinuteClinic, a Minneapolis-based chain of about 200 clinics in 20 states.

At the same time, critics have warned that such retail clinics may pose a conflict of interest that put profits ahead of patient health. On June 25, the American Medical Association, the nation's largest physicians group, asked state and federal agencies to look into whether pharmacy chain-owned clinics in stores urge patients to get their prescriptions filled on site, which the AMA maintains would pose a conflict. It also said that insurance companies should be banned from waiving or lowering co-payments only for patients who get treatment at store-based clinics.

In response, Castel said that fewer than half of patients treated at MinuteClinics have prescriptions written for them, and those who receive one are free to choose where they want them filled. MinuteClinic plans to meet the anticipated spike in demand for health services now that a landmark law requiring all Massachusetts residents to get a health insurance has come into force, CVS Caremark Health Care Services President Chris Bodine was reported. "MinuteClinic can serve a critical health care need by providing convenient, affordable access to quality health care for common medical conditions," Bodine said.

The Department of Public Health's Bureau of Health Care Quality - responsible for licensing inpatient health care facilities and approving the construction of all health care clinics in the state - is developing the new regulations on retail clinics. "We believe this is a win-win situation," Commissioner of the Department of Public Health John Auerbach says. The proposed regulations "could also expand access to health care to very vulnerable populations."


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