Community Pharmacists Take Capitol Hill

By Kevin Schweers

Some of Congress’ staunchest community pharmacy champions rallied in front of the U.S. Capitol as pharmacists prepared to set out for a day of 200+ meetings with U.S. Senators and Representatives – a fitting conclusion to NCPA’s three-day Legislation and Government Affairs Conference.

“This is a great turnout of pharmacists from throughout the country,” NCPA’s Bruce T. Roberts, RPh, observed. “These people are making a difference in the community every day.”

Legislator after legislator relayed the positive impact that local pharmacists had on their health or that of their families.

Although he delivered prescriptions for a local pharmacy as a boy, U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa) confessed that it wasn’t until later that he learned everything pharmacists do to improve health outcomes and why they are one of the most trusted professions. Patients in his district, especially seniors, don’t have regular contact with doctors or specialists, but they have regular contact with pharmacists who help cut costs and avoid hospital re-admissions.

“Community pharmacies are vital,” said U.S. Rep. Geoff Davis (R-Ky.), relaying how his local pharmacist “saved my daughter’s life” by preventing a potential drug interaction that he’s not sure a Big Box store would have caught. Davis also blasted those who would pay paper-pushers more than trained health professionals dispensing medication, saying “It’s one of the reasons I despise the PBMs.”

“I know you’re on the front lines,” said U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas). “You’re there when people come in confused, angry and frustrated with the health care system and the actions of pharmaceutical companies and PBMs.” Doggett lauded positive provisions in health care reform that require more accountability of PBMs and reimburse pharmacists under Medicaid at a more reasonable rate. Doggett renewed his support for H.R. 3108, legislation to boost the availability of medication therapy management services from pharmacists.

North Carolina’s third district is home to 60,000 military retirees and dependents who rely on their local pharmacists, noted U.S. Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.): “Those people who say mail order – it’s crazy.”

“Community pharmacies are the heart and soul of the neighborhoods of my community of 40,000,” added U.S. Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio). “As the community pharmacy goes, so goes the neighborhood.” Local pharmacies like Hart Pharmacy are where his constituents turn to learn about the impacts of health care reform, Medicare Part D and other changes. Driehaus also recalled being “astounded” at learning about PBM practices like repackaging.

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers (R-Wash.) relayed the importance of local pharmacies in her rural district, leading her to co-found the Congressional Community Pharmacy Coalition: “I’ve seen communities that lost the community pharmacy and those that have fought to keep them open.”

Growing up in Boston, U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) lamented watching the “systematic disappearance” of community pharmacies, which were often replaced by a CVS. He touted legislation he co-sponsored and backed by NCPA – H.R. 4489 – as a way to bring more transparency to the federal employees’ prescription drug benefit.

U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Health Subcommittee and encouraged pharmacists to stay engaged with their Representatives and Senators to ensure their voices are heard. He called for a team-based, coordinated approach to health care, in which pharmacists must play a role.

“The pharmacist is the gateway to the health care system for so many people,” said U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.). As Congress prepared to address health reform, he recalled, “Nobody said ‘You’ve got to help those PBMs – they really need the help.’ They said, ‘The local pharmacy has been replaced by a chain and it’s not the same.’ We want to ensure the community pharmacy can not only survive, but can thrive.”

Weiner spoke forcefully in favor of H.R. 5234, the PBM Audit Reform and Transparency Act of 2010, legislation he recently introduced with U.S. Rep. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and endorsed by NCPA.

“The PBMs are in business for the PBMs. They are not in business for my constituents or for the labor unions they sign up,” Weiner said. “There needs to be much more transparency for federal agencies and to my constituents.”

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