Bringing Congress to Community Pharmacy

By Kevin Schweers

Community pharmacists held over 200 meetings with Members of Congress and their staffs in Washington this month and, during the Memorial Day recess next week, pharmacists are playing the hosts and opening their doors to lawmakers.

The pharmacy visits offer policymakers a prime opportunity to “press the flesh” with constituents as well as a first-hand opportunity to see a community pharmacy in action. From the pharmacists’ perspective, there’s no better way remind or educate public officials about the critical role local pharmacies play, especially in areas where they are the sole health care provider for many miles.

April and early May brought additional Members of Congress into community pharmacies and more visits are scheduled for next week’s break from Capitol Hill.

In Southampton, N.Y., U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) stopped by Souththrifty Drug for about 40 minutes. Owner/Supervising Pharmacist Bob Grisnik says Bishop was mainly interested in the role of pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs). Specifically, how PBMs have affected the viability of small pharmacies, the setting of formularies, manufacturer rebates and where the rebates go.

Gautam K. Nirmal, R.Ph., owner of Park Drugs located in the heart of Brooklyn,  gave U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) a tour of his pharmacy, where they talked about mandatory mail order and the direct impact it has had to his long time customers.  The Representative, pictured here with Nimral, and her staff literally walked across the street from their district office to Park Drugs illustrating the unique presence many independent pharmacies have in densely populated urban neighborhoods. 

Nimral said CVS Caremark continues to send questionable letters urging his customers to use the nearest CVS store (three miles away – distant for Brooklyn) creating enormous headaches for those customers, many of them senior citizens.  Rep. Clarke was thanked for her support in addressing the Medicaid generic reimbursement issue by raising this top pharmacy issue with Congressional Leaders last fall.  Rep. Clarke also spoke with Nirmal’s patients and watched his staff help patients meet their health needs. 

Brentwood Pharmacy’s Digesh Thaker, R.Ph. gave U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) a brief overview of his business and why people like independent community pharmacy as compared to large, national chains. Pictured here, they also discussed some issues and concerns about reimbursement, mail order and supply chain issues.

Compounding and durable medical equipment (DME) were on the mind of U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) during a visit to Northside Pharmacy of McKinney, Texas. Co-owner George Webb highlighted the unique capabilities that compounding offers his patients, as well as its challenges.  Community pharmacists won a long-sought conditional exemption from DME accreditation requirements in the new health care reform law and are now advocating a limited exemption from a regulation that would lock many independent pharmacies out of the Medicare DME program.

Mail order troubles also emerged in Rockwell, N.C., as U.S. Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.) paid a visit to Crescent Pharmacy.

The Salisbury Post reported it this way: “Owner-pharmacist Will Lombard and his staff know their customers by name, sometimes give them a hug as they walk into the store and everyone shares updates on families.

 “It’s a personal touch that comes with a small business. As the Crescent Pharmacy employees met Monday with U.S. Rep. Howard Coble, they exchanged pleasantries, of course, before telling Coble just one of problems for their customers.

“Insurance companies force many clients to purchase their drugs through the mail.

“‘It’s taking the little man out of the equation,’ pharmacist Shelly Batts said. ‘Customers don’t like it.’

“By relying on their prescription drugs through mail orders, their former customers sometimes experience periods when their refills don’t arrive as scheduled. Or they have problems identifying the pills they should be taking, when they do arrive.

“‘There’s nobody to talk to about them,’ Goodman said. ‘They don’t feel comfortable.’

“So they naturally look to their small-town pharmacy for guidance.

“‘We definitely are seeing it more and more,’ Batts said. ‘…There’s not that personal touch, especially for the elderly. … It should be their choice as to where they buy their drugs.’”

Elsewhere, Blake Pharmacy of West Union, Ohio hosted U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio); and in California, Northwest Medical Pharmacy of Fresno welcomed U.S. Rep. George Radanovich (R-Calif.) and U.S. Rep. Wally Herger (R-Calif.) – Ranking Member of the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee checked out Live Oak Pharmacy.

Those interested in scheduling a pharmacy visit can contact NCPA’s Bob Aldrich at (703) 683-8200.

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