Community pharmacists in New York scored a significant win for their patients, communities and pharmacy choice in late 2011 with the enactment of the Anti-Mandatory Mail Order or AMMO with overwhelming, bipartisan backing. What lessons might the campaign in support of the AMMO law hold for community pharmacists across the country?
To find out, NCPA recently asked one of the legislation’s staunchest supporters and advocates to share his observations on the effort to enact the AMMO law. Craig Burridge, M.S., is Executive Director of the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York (PSSNY). Mr. Burridge credits PSSNY members as most instrumental to enacting AMMO over the fierce opposition of mandatory mail order proponents, principally large pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs). He notes people including Ray Macioci, Charles Catalano, Vinny Chiffy and literally hundreds of pharmacy owners helped win a hard fought battle by gathering tens of thousands of signatures on petitions from their patients and coordinating tens of thousands of phone calls, emails and letters.
What follows is a Q&A with Mr. Burridge, in hopes that his advice would benefit patients and independent community pharmacists in other states advocating for patient choice.
NCPA: When it comes to the forced or mandated use of mail order pharmacies, many of the concerns expressed by patients and the community pharmacists who care for them are not new and have, in fact, been voiced for a number of years. What made 2011 different in New York?
Mr. Burridge: In New York, consumers by the tens of thousands signed petitions at their local pharmacy against mandatory mail order. Patients wrote dozens of letters to the editor of many regional newspapers telling about their horror stories with mail order. Finally, pharmacy owners had had enough of losing their patients to self-dealing PBMs. Tens of thousands of phone calls to the Governor’s Office and to Legislators were made by pharmacy owners, their staffs and their patients in support of passage of the no mandatory mail order bill.
NCPA: One obstacle to ensuring patient choice of pharmacy is the myth of mail order savings. This persists in some minds despite what appears to be rampant mail order waste and studies demonstrating how health plan sponsors that incent or require the use of mail order can end up paying more for drugs. Did you encounter such misperceptions and, if so, what did you do to alter or overcome them?
Mr. Burridge: We did in New York. The PBMs came at us with ads stating that costs would go up and that it was a ‘prescription drug tax’ or that it would ‘prohibit mail order.’ We responded with evidence that exposed the ‘spreads’ being used at mail for generics and the fact that the legislation requires participating pharmacies to agree to the same reimbursement and the same co-pays.
NCPA: The health care benefits of a patient’s face-to-face consultation with a community pharmacist and the preference of most patients for going to a local pharmacy are both well-established. But how did you chronicle and reinforce the economic and tax benefits of buying local when it comes to pharmacies?
Mr. Burridge: According to national data (IMS Health) for 2009, the last year we had data before introducing legislation, 22.8 percent of the national drug spend was for mail order prescriptions. Using New York’s percentage of total drug spend (11 percent), we removed hospital expenditures and Medicaid (which had less than one percent mail order) and came up with a mail order drug spend in NY in access of $5.8 billion annually. New York State has no major mail order facilities so this represents thousands of lost pharmacy jobs.
NCPA: Like PSSNY, NCPA continually stresses to its members the importance of grassroots activism, whether it is at the federal or state levels or with local employers and leaders. Did you find that your memberships became more engaged than usual in 2011 and, if so, what did you do to encourage their further involvement?
Mr. Burridge: It helped to have the PBM industry fly in colleagues from around the country and host their own Lobby Day. They told legislators that New York’s pharmacies could survive on acute medications only. This only caused yet another round of thousands of phone calls from our pharmacists, their staffs and patients. Our grass roots turned into a raging grass fire. Livelihoods were at stake and our opponents showed their hand. They wanted ALL maintenance medications going to their wholly-owned out-of-state mail order facilities. Our legislators saw that too.
NCPA: What surprised you the most about your 2011 campaign against mandatory mail order?
Mr. Burridge: I’ve been doing this too long to be surprised. We expected the worst from our opponents and they did not disappoint us.
NCPA: What were some of your opponents’ most challenging arguments and how did you address them?
Mr. Burridge: That depends if you consider outright lies as a challenge. Their ads said that it was a “Prescription Tax” or, when that flopped, they said our bill “would prohibit mail order.” These were easily swept aside and only upset legislators who felt the PBM industry was accusing them of passing a tax on prescription drugs.
NCPA: Do you have any other words of wisdom that you would like to share with concerned patients or your colleagues in community pharmacy?
Mr. Burridge: Choosing one’s pharmacy should be a basic right. If the playing field is level, it only makes sense to buy local. Watch out for PBMs calling all maintenance medications so-called ‘specialty drugs’ as a way of getting around no mandatory mail order laws. We’ll have a lot more to say on that in the near future.