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Your Pharmacy May be in Danger

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(NNPA) The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is considering whether to allow a corporate merger thatcould result in great strides backward for African Americans and others suffering from economic and health ills.

Stick with me, because it gets a little complicated.

Express Scripts, Inc. (ESI) and Medco Health Solutions are giant, multi-billion dollar corporationsthat control prescription drug benefits for hundreds of millions of Americans. Known aspharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), these companies decide which pharmacies people can visit,what prescription drugs are available for purchase, and how much these medications will cost.They also decide how much community pharmacies will be paid for filling prescriptions.

The potential merger affects so many people, and raises so many antitrust issues, that the FTC isreviewing it to see if it should be allowed at all, and if so, under what conditions.

If these two companies are allowed to join forces, they will control the majority of the prescriptionmarket—and decision-making—in several key areas, including mail order and specialty pharmacy,and will dwarf the remaining PBMs in size and prescription volume. The increased level of market control will give the merged company the power to increase prices and push out rivals,including community pharmacies.

Don’t just take my word for it. Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI) is the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights. When it comes to antitrustmatters, he is an expert. In a letter to Jonathan Leibowitz, chairman of the FTC, Kohl asks that the agency carefully scrutinize the merger. He cites concerns that the merger will reduce competition,raise prices for consumers, and threaten community and chain drug stores.

Kohl believes “the stakes for American consumers, health plan sponsors, and our nation’s networkof local pharmacies arising out of this transaction are very high…” He is right. And the stakes areeven higher for African Americans than for the average American consumer.

If prices go up, as expected under this merger, and community pharmacies are no longer able tocompete in the hostile climate created by the PBMs, African Americans throughout the countrywill lose access to needed medications and other pharmacy services.

This is disturbing in light of existing health disparities. African Americans are more likely to beafflicted with life-threatening diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer than whites. Infantmortality is higher. We are less likely to be immunized against common, easily-preventableillnesses. So the convenient, localized services provided by community pharmacies in our neighborhoods are especially important.

On top of that, consider the devastating effects of the recent recession on African Americans. Theunemployment rate for blacks in January 2012 was 13.6 percent, nearly twice as high the 7.5% unemployment rate among whites. Many African-Americans have lost their homes during the recession. And, even having a much lower household of wealth to begin with, blacks have lost agreater percentage of net worth, according to the Pew Research Center.

This means that the people most in need of quality health services are least able to affordthem. The ESI/Medco merger will make matters worse by increasing prescription drug pricesand causing community pharmacies to fail, including, notably, a number of minority-owned businesses.

One of the PBM companies, ESI, is already dropping popular pharmacies from its network, pre-merger. Yes, this is the same Express Scripts that recently dumped Walgreens, the nation’s largest pharmacy chain, eliminating access for the many people of color who live near these stores. But ESI does not care whether community pharmacies remain in its network, or even survive. Infact, CEO George Paz told Senator Kohl at a Judiciary Subcommittee hearing about the merger, “Ican’t stop certain pharmacies from going out of business.”

The other company, Medco, is requiring many of its customers to use mail-order pharmacies instead of retail pharmacies, deciding for patients in Big Brother fashion which pharmacy servicesthey can use. This also threatens community pharmacies. But don’t look to the company forsympathy. Medco CEO David Snow believes his pharmacy robots are better than your localpharmacist down the street, and if he has his way, you will no longer have a choice.

Viewed in light of existing health disparities and economic difficulties, and the indifference of thePBM executives, there are no benefits for African American consumers in allowing the merger toproceed, and there are many risks.

If the FTC gives the merger the “most serious review” requested by Senator Kohl, it is difficult tosee how they could possibly allow it to move forward.

Mr. Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®.Website: www.nationalbcc.org. Email: halford@nationalbcc.org.

Letter to the Editor

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As a daughter of a World War II soldier, I was privileged and personally touched to participate in a ceremony at Arrowhead Credit Union Park awarding the Congressional Medal of Honor to five Inland Tuskegee Airmen in 2007. They were Buford Johnson; Harlan Q. Leonard Jr.; Laska H. Jones, Robert Boyd and Charles Ledbetter (posthumously).

These brave heroes fought prejudice and discrimination to fight the Nazis in the air. They represented the 996 airmen, crew and staff who trained at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama during World War II. Four hundred and fifty pilots were sent overseas and completed 1,578 successful missions.

Sixty-six men made the ultimate sacrifice fighting for our freedom.

Known as the Red Tails, this squadron of Black fighter pilots achieved an extraordinary feat. They not only overcame the racism, they went on to become one of the most respected and decorated regiments in history. They opened doors not just for Black Americans, but for anyone who aspires to achieve their dreams in the face of enormous challenge.

Their courageous story is well-chronicled in the new George Lucas film, “Red Tails.” The film’s release is a focal point for our celebration of Black achievement in American history this month. I hope many of you will see this film to honor the Tuskegee Airmen and to share their legacy with younger generations.

Wilmer Amina Carter Rialto
Wilmer Amina Carter is 62nd District State Assemblymember who honors veterans annually at a May appreciation reception.

Letter to the Editor

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The Moreno Valley City Council again voted to proceed with their previously dismissed validation lawsuit. The reason for the lawsuit is to get court approval to terminate the rights of the public to object to the financing.

And there are plenty of reasons to object.

This project involves the widening of Nason from Fir to Cactus. One of the biggest reasons to oppose this project is the hidden cost.

This $15 million project will cost about $38 million to repay.

The repayments will be made from funds traditionally used for street maintenance.

The city’s residents will be losing $23 million in annual street maintenance over the next 30 years that will instead be paid to interest.

That’s over 20% of the city’s annual general fund revenues. In the city’s long-range business plan (1/17/2012 study session) the report refers to the city’s significant deferred street maintenance liability. One idea is to use $1 million per year from the General Fund to maintain street quality. In other words if the city institutes this financing, the city is going to need to make up from the general fund the loss in street maintenance dollars.

The biggest reason to oppose this financing is because it shouldn’t be paid for with public monies. There is a development agreement between Iddo Benzeevi’s company (Benzeevi) and the city. That agreement requires Benzeevi to pay for street improvements that will impact his development in exchange for the elimination of his Development Impact Fees. Using public dollars to pay for improvements that Benzeevi is contractually obligated to pay for should be thought of as nothing less than a gift of public dollars to a private developer.

The city council already voted to pay for $23.3 million for streets running through and around his vacant property.

Streets that won’t be needed unless he develops.

By my calculations the Moreno Valley City Council just Gifted developer Iddo Benzeevi with $60 million dollars in public money to improve his property and the value of his property. I think the city of Moreno Valley has worked itself right up to the same class as the city of Bell and Vernon and the county of San Bernardino.

Some more little known information. The city council convened a secret committee to (vet) pick the current city manager. This committee met in secret for months before anyone from the public knew. None of us would have known, except Benzeevi and friends went to the press when it looked like his choice wasn’t going to be hired. Three of the committee members were on the Rancho Belago Economic Council Board of Directors.

A committee spearheaded by Benzeevi to further his economic interests in the east end of Moreno Valley.

Two own property or businesses that will be improved with this plan. Two received campaign contribution from the Moreno Valley Taxpayers Association who in turn received almost all of it’s money from Iddo Benzeevi and Jerry Stephens. We feel Benzeevi and friends got to pick the city manager that furthered their business and/ or economic interests.

Hopefully this information encourages you to become more active in city affairs. Moreno Valley City Council meetings are the first four Tuesday’s of the month (except holidays). The address fir City Hall Council Chambers is 14177 Frederick Street, meetings start at 6 PM.

Thank You,
Deanna Reeder

Is Mitt Romney a Racist? Part II

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(NNPA) I posed this question in an article written back in December 2007. I left it “open ended”. Lately, now that there is another presidential race going on interested people are starting to uncover this old article and make it contemporary. This is troubling to me so I guess I should put closure to the whole matter. First, let me answer the question: No, Mitt Romney is not a racist. As I researched history, over the years I have come to find that the opposite is the case. The Romney Family has a legacy of pro-civil rights, progressive activism and an understanding of how poverty and inequality can hurt people.

Stunned? Let me run it down and I believe you will find this story to be a great American success story. The Romney bloodlines are of immigrant English, Scottish and German descent. Mitt’s grandparents, Gaskell Romney and Anna Amelia Pratt were natives of Utah but moved to Mexico, Chihuahua State, and settled in one of the few Mormon colonies. They had six sons and one daughter. Mitt’s father, George W. Romney had a simple life in the beginning. Then, in 1910, the Mexican Revolution started and Mormon colonies came under severe attacks and constant threats.

The Romney’s arrived in the United States, near El Paso, as Mexican refugees. They were treated with scorn and became penniless. Soon they moved again to outside of Los Angeles. The Romney children were teased by other kids who labeled them “Mex”. Soon after that they journeyed to Idaho to try farming. They raised potatoes; sold most of them and ate the rest for substance. Finally, they arrived in Utah and settled in with the predominant Mormon community there.

Early life was rugged for the senior Romney but it instilled in him a strong work ethic. He passed that along to his children including Willard Mitt Romney whom we all know today. George Romney eventually started working for Alcoa Aluminum and the Aluminum Wares Association as a lobbyist and, thus, his political career was about to take off. He was also a genius business executive and would rise to the CEO position of American Motors. When Mitt was born in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan in 1941, George had gone up the “ladder” and would gain wealth that would be passed onto to his children and their families.

George joined the Republican Party and let it be known to all that he was a proponent of civil rights and would fight for equal opportunity especially for the “Negro”. He soon became Governor of the state of Michigan and he used his authority to help integrate the state. He demanded new, integrated subdivisions to be built near new auto plants like the Ford Willow Run facility so that Blacks could easily access the jobs that were provided. In 1963 he stated, “It was only after I got to Detroit that I got to know Negroes and began to be able to evaluate them and I began to recognize that some Negroes are better and more capable than lots of whites….Michigan’s most urgent human rights problem is racial discrimination – in housing, public accommodations, education, administration of justice, and employment.” He thus created the state’s first civil rights commission.

George not only supported Dr. Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement he actively cheered it on. When the Selma to Montgomery March went down, he organized a “solidarity march” in Detroit to show his belief in the values being preached. Keep in mind, he was Governor of the State. People noticed and on his last re-election as Governor he won over 30 percent of the Black vote. He stood tall for justice. When Barry Goldwater ran for President on the Republican ticket in 1964, George refused to support him as the candidate was opposed to the Civil Rights Act.

During all of this advocacy, his son, Mitt, was evolving as a man. He idolized his father and emulated his legacy. Mitt Romney lived amongst Blacks in metropolitan Detroit. He went to the prestigious Cranbrook School. That’s where basketball legend Chris Webber matriculated. One of our board members, Claude McDougal, is a fellow alumnus of the school.

Perhaps the greatest thing Mitt’s father did as an example to his son came in 1969. He became Secretary of HUD (Nixon Administration) and he quickly implemented Section 3 of the HUD Act (Equal Opportunity and Employment Program). It gave President Nixon fits but he did it successfully and it stands today.

Let me close with a quote from Mitt that shows the “fruit” doesn’t fall far from the tree: “I do not support quotas in hiring, government contracting, school admissions or the like. I believe our nation is at its best when people are evaluated as individuals. I do support encouraging inclusiveness and diversity, and I encourage the disclosure of the numbers of women and minorities in top positions of companies and government – not to impose a quota, but to shine light on the situation. We should always strive for the broadest representation of people, from all walks of life, at all levels of our companies, schools, and government.” Hmmm, sounds like a plan.

Mr. Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®. Website: www.nationalbcc.org. Email: halford@nationalbcc.org.

'Team Obama' Must Desegregate

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By A. Bruce Crawley, Special to the NNPA from the Philadelphia Tribune –

If you’re Black and you’ve been feeling marginalized, disrespected and overlooked by all that’s been going on in the Republican primary campaign, trust me, “you ain’t seen nothing yet.” Wait until you see what the 2012 Obama campaign has in store for Black folks.

Here’s a helpful tip: Be sure to carry a mirror around with you between now and November, and glance into it from time to time to remind yourself that you actually still do exist as a Black voter.

As you do that, also try to periodically remind yourself that you and 15.9 million other Black voters in the 2008 election, which Obama won by 6 percentage points, accounted for 13 percent of every vote cast, and that you gave the “first Black president” 96 percent of your vote to sweep him into office.

But hey, this is 2012, and none of that, it seems, has been factored into the “first Black president’s” 2012 re-election strategy. In a recent Newsweek article, “Yes We Can (Can’t We?),” a reporter named Andrew Romano promised to give the inside scoop on “Team Obama” and the “Juggernaut Reelection Machine” it’s building in Chicago.

Get your hands on a copy. My guess is that you’ll feel highly informed, deeply disappointed, a little bit frightened and finally, outraged by the story.

Highly informed? That’ll be the part where Romano points out that “With ten months to go before Election Day, the president’s job-approval rating is loitering around 46 percent, which is a problem, because the incumbent party has lost the last five times its president started Election Year below 49 percent. Likewise, no president since Franklin Roosevelt in 1936 has been reelected when the unemployment rate is as high, or higher, than it is now (8.6 percent).”

Despite a lackluster Republican primary field and deep campaign pockets, 2012 is not shaping up as a slam-dunk for the basketball-loving Democratic president.

Did I say “deep pockets?” Take this from the Newsweek feature: “Obama raised $15.6 million from financial-sector workers through September, more than the entire Republican field.” Add to that the campaign’s expectation that it will raise $1 billion by November, a new record for a presidential election.

A “little bit frightened?” According to Newsweek, Team Obama is currently “tinkering away” on a “micro-listening computer model” that will track every conversation that every single Obama volunteer has, every door they knock on, every action they take.” They’ll use it “to collect online and off-line behavior patterns on individual voters.” I don’t know about you, but this all seems a whole lot more “up close and personal” than I was looking for from a presidential election campaign.

Did I also mention “disappointed?” Go on YouTube and check out “Jim Messina: Paths to 270 Electoral Votes – Obama for America.” As Messina explains it, the “Five Paths” include the West, Florida, the South, the Midwest and the “Expansion.” Sounds reasonable, analytical and geographic on YouTube. Then you read the Newsweek article closely and you see where Messina explains that several of the paths “hinge on the president increasing his margins among Latinos, the fastest growing subset of the electorate.” In fact, Messina went on to say specifically, “The Latino vote will be absolutely crucial in this election.”

Huh?

Break out that mirror, Black folks. If the Hispanic community that sent 9.7 million people to the polls in 2008, and gave Obama 66 percent of that vote, is “crucial,” shouldn’t Black people, who represented 15.9 million voters, in November 2008, and who gave Obama 96 percent of that total, also be “crucial enough” to mention in Newsweek?

All of this leads to why I also said that I was “outraged” by how Team Obama presented itself in the Newsweek story. On page 43 of the magazine was a full-page “Team Obama” organization chart. There was “the first Black president” himself, positioned at the very top, as he should have been, I imagine. But then there were nine other people — six men and three women. Included were, of course, Messina, and the all-powerful David Axelrod, who’s described as “Obama’s long-time message guru.”

Despite the country being comprised about 33 percent by Blacks, Hispanics and Asians, and despite Black voters having consistently been the single most loyal portion of the president’s base, there wasn’t a single Black or African-American face anywhere on the entire page.

Make no mistake, our national elections have evolved to become nothing more than massive brand marketing campaigns. Obama’s the brand; you’re the consumer. Get over it! In that regard, however, would McDonald’s, General Motors or Nike be so naïve as to sit back and assume that Black consumers would continue to buy their products without satisfactory results, and without the input of senior-level, African-American marketing strategists? The answer to that is “No!”

Or is it that Axelrod and his decidedly non-diverse minions simply believe that they “understand Black voters” sufficiently that they don’t even need senior-level Black input to develop their outreach strategies?

Having worked with David Axelrod fairly closely during both of John Street ‘s mayoral campaigns in Philadelphia in 1999 and 2003, I absolutely believe the Obama campaign now feels, as Axelrod believed then, that there is absolutely no reason to spend reasonably significant amounts of time or money reaching out to Black voters. His assumption then, as it probably is now, was that the African-American electorate in the 2012 election simply has nowhere else to go.

In Philadelphia during both elections, Axelrod spent virtually every one of his very-well-compensated “campaign hours” focused on attracting the “white swing voter.” Today, very similarly, he’s focused on the so-called “Independents.” In the Street campaign, he left the cultivation of, and outreach to, the Black vote, to African-American campaign consultants — including D.C.-based pollster Ron Lester, campaign manager Lana Felton Ghee and me, on the advertising and public relations side. Despite attracting less than 20 percent of the overall white vote in both elections — well below the percentage of the city’s white registered voters — Street won in ’99 and ’03 because Black turnout broke records across the city, and because he successfully attracted 96 percent and 98 percent, respectively, of that vote. In fact, if Street’s outcomes had been solely dependent on the Axelrod strategy of attracting “white swing voters,” he would have lost badly both times.

For example, in three predominantly white wards in South Philadelphia, the 1st, 26th and 39th, Street averaged 20.7 percent of the vote in 1999 and 28.2 percent, in 2003. In four predominantly white “Far Northeast” wards, Street averaged 11.7 percent of the vote in 1999, and 15.1 percent in 2003. By comparison, in 1999, Street won 91.3 percent of the vote in eight predominantly Black West Philadelphia wards and, in 2003, he won 96.5 percent of the vote in 10 predominantly Black wards in North Philadelphia. It was just like that all over the city. Do the math.

In 2008, encouraged by Obama’s surprisingly strong showing in the caucuses in overwhelmingly white Iowa, Black voters launched their own grassroots efforts to elect the “first Black president,” Obama won, despite receiving just 43 percent of white voter support nationwide.

The problem in 2012 is that Axelrod and “Team Obama” seem intent on delivering the same basic approach they used in 2008, wrapped in high-tech gadgetry and bolstered by more money than has ever been spent in a presidential campaign.

At its core, however, the outreach strategy, is flawed, and unless the campaign takes steps very soon to ensure African-American senior-level strategic input, and an effort that reflects a healthy respect for Black voters, the “First Black president” will only get to serve one term in office. Maybe it’s time to desegregate “Team Obama.”

A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.

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