Editor’s Note: NCPA invited our friends at the Pennsylvania Pharmacists Association to summarize their recent, successful 2011 Pharmacy Legislative Day. What follows is their account, which serves as a compelling reminder of the importance of grassroots activity by community pharmacists. Take advantage of these opportunities, including the upcoming NCPA Legislative Conference in Washington, DC.
Like many states, Pennsylvania pharmacists are fighting to protect patients’ right to access community pharmacy services against the increasing pressures of the PBM and mail order industry. Each year, the aggressive marketing schemes of the PBM industry unfairly coerce more Pennsylvanians into utilizing only mail order pharmacy and are having a detrimental impact on community pharmacy and the patients they serve. The Pennsylvania Pharmacists Association (PPA) has made addressing this issue its top priority for the Commonwealth’s 2011-2012 legislative session. To ensure independent pharmacies’ voice was being heard loud and clear, over 300 pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and pharmacy students traveled to the capitol in Harrisburg during PPA’s 2011 Pharmacy Legislative Day. As a first-time participant and independent pharmacy buying group executive put it:
“I was amazed at the turnout of pharmacists and students at Legislative Day! The Rotunda was filled and the audience observing seemed as surprised as I was. The impact of this type of grass roots success sends a clear message to Legislators that Independent Pharmacy cares deeply about its patients. The support for the Access to Community Pharmacy legislation will certainly be viewed in a more positive light by legislators following the great turnout to support our agenda.” Greg Drew, R.Ph – President, Value Drug Company.
This year, PPA took a new approach to organizing this event. PPA member “county coordinators” assisted in the organization of county-based teams that would meet with the legislators from their respective region of the state. These county coordinators played an integral role in increasing participation from pharmacists who may have never before been involved in the event. PPA helped organize these teams to connect legislators with their constituents. Also, efforts were made to team pharmacy students with more experienced members. 2011 attendance represented a 210% increase from 2010.
These county-based teams met with over 110 legislators and requested that Senate Bill: 201 and House Bill: 511 “Access to Community Pharmacy Services” be moved favorably out of their respective committees and enacted into law. The legislation would level the playing field between community pharmacy and mail order pharmacy and ensure that Pennsylvanians have the right to choose where they obtain their medications without additional cost or coercion.
Support for the event came from three Pennsylvania based buying organizations: the Independent Pharmacy Buying Group (IPBG), Keystone Pharmacy Purchasing Alliance, and Value Drug Company and several wholesalers such as RDC and McKesson.
The day’s highlighted event was a press conference and rally. Nearly all attendees gathered on the grand staircase of the Capitol and cheered on speakers including the legislation’s prime sponsors and PPA members who presented the issue to observing legislators, staff and members of the press. PPA pharmacists explained not only the inaccurate claims of PBMs, but also the important role a community pharmacist plays in patient care. As one attendee noted:
“The significance of this legislation is very timely. With the shifting focus in Health Care to ’improved outcomes’ rather than simply volume discounts, community pharmacists will play an integral role in working with patients as well as other health care colleagues to change how we practice and coordinate medical care in the United States.” – P.J. Ortman, R.Ph.- Lancaster, Pennsylvania
PPA hopes to see the Access to Community Pharmacy Services legislation move favorably out of the Pennsylvania House Aging and Older Adult Services Committee by mid-May. With the impressive showing during 2011 Legislative Day and concentrated follow-up with legislators by PPA Government Relations staff and additional constituent contact, PPA is optimistic that this legislation will see favorable action in the near future.
More important than any one legislative issue, the increase in participation during the 2011 Legislative Day demonstrates that Pennsylvania pharmacists are becoming more involved in grassroots advocacy. As a key part of such efforts, pharmacy students play an integral role in the advancement of PPA’s legislative priorities.
“It was great to have buy-in from all seven Pennsylvania schools of pharmacy to support the initiatives of PPA. Our strong presence at the Capitol was picked up by media outlets from across Pennsylvania and helped promote our message of the value of pharmacist interaction.” – Adam Welch, R.Ph, Wilkes University, 2011-2012, PPA President
This sentiment was echoed by student attendees. Students, by the busload, made the trip to Harrisburg. One student stated:
“Legislative Day brought pharmacists and student pharmacists together to provide a unified voice for pharmacy. Crucial issues such as access to community pharmacy services and expanded immunization abilities were brought to our legislators. It’s great to see so many pharmacists and students ready to protect our future.” – Shaina Bernard, PharmD candidate, 2012, Duquesne University.
PPA believes that 2011 Pharmacy Legislative Day was the first step in an annual increase in participation. The message is clear: that, although the “big business” influence of the PBM industry is formidable, pharmacists and their patients are a force with which to be reckoned.