Over 250 independent community pharmacists discussed top health care and pharmacy issues with leading lawmakers and federal and state policymakers, during the second day of NCPA’s Legislative Conference Tuesday, May 8th.
Senator Al Franken (D-MN) spoke of how pharmacy access is a critical issue in parts of Minnesota, especially rural areas, where independent pharmacies are also vital small businesses.
“I often hear from seniors how important pharmacists are to help manage their conditions,” he said. “They offer more than just medications. They are a gateway to health care.”
Franken voiced his support for pharmacist-provided medication therapy management (MTM) as a way to prevent costly medication errors. He’s heard physicians endorse it as well.
“In other words you guys are pretty important so thank you for what you do,” he added. “I look forward to continuing to work with you to preserve patient access to community pharmacies.”
The top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Health, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), shared his appreciation for what independent pharmacists do as well as his empathy for the challenges pharmacists face.
“You are one of the groups in direct contact with people on a regular basis,” Pallone noted. “I go to the pharmacy and talk to the pharmacist myself and ask for advice. Thanks you for that.”
The chief sponsor of S. 1058, the Pharmacy Competition and Consumer Choice Act, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) also addressed the NCPA meeting. He relayed how pharmacists play a critical role as frontline providers in rural Kansas towns. He recalled representing a Congressional District in which eight Kansas counties lacked a pharmacist.
“Pharmacy access helps determine future success of rural America,” Moran said. “My dad is 96 and lives in my hometown of 2,000 people. Because of his access to a community pharmacist he can remain in his hometown. The local pharmacy is also where he drinks coffee. The pharmacist checks his blood pressure and tells him when to go the hospital or a doctor.”
Moran also co-founded of the first Senate Community Pharmacy Caucus to, as he put it, “educate people about these issues.”
The need for S. 1058 (known as H.R. 1971 in the House of Representatives) is even greater following the Express Scripts-Medco merger, he argued.
“We need to break down the barriers PBMs create,” Moran said. “I support and believe in consumer choice. I want PBMs to be much more transparent than they are.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) also addressed the NCPA attendees. They shared their personal appreciation of and support for the work of independent community pharmacists.
During a media briefing for reporters, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), urged support for pro-patient, pro-pharmacist legislation, including H.R. 1971 and H.R. 4215, the Medicare Pharmacy Transparency and Fair Auditing Act. She’s hopeful for a hearing and then action on her legislation later this year.
“Community pharmacists are on the front lines, helping achieve lower costs and better health,” she said. “Across rural America, the community pharmacist is the source of immunizations and other health services.”
Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) is the lead sponsor, along with Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) of H.R. 1936, the Medicare Access to Diabetes Supplies Act. He predicted that the bill could gain some steam and see some action during the post-election “lame duck” session. A House Ways and Means Subcommittee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the issue Wednesday, May 9th.
From the Pentagon’s TRICARE program, Col. George Jones, offered a preview of the military’s view of a medical home. TRICARE envisions pharmacists as providers of integrated medication management services. He added that he sees health plans paying community pharmacists to serve at the core of disease management, utilizing pharmacy databases.
During a panel on state governmental issues, Alabama State Representative Greg Wren shared a first-hand perspective on how independent pharmacists can work with policymakers for win-win solutions. During a recent Medicaid budget crisis, state policymakers needed solutions.
Leading independent pharmacists and pharmacy groups in the state (including American Pharmacy Cooperative, Inc.) came forward with a “generics first” based solution that preserved pharmacy access while achieving the needed savings.
“They brought honesty and integrity and the frontside and backside of their business,” Wren recalled. “Your advocacy power is unlimited. Engage the employer and expect a different result.”