With health reform outlook dimmed, pharmacy can’t abandon its agenda

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT Was the massive effort by the White House and congressional Democrats to overhaul the nation’s expensive and confusing healthcare system nothing more than a wasted, year-long effort?

(THE NEWS: NCPA responds to President Obama's State of the Union Address. For the full story, click here)

That question hangs over Washington, the retail pharmacy industry and the country at large, and it cast a slight pall over President Obama’s State of the Union address Wednesday night. The stunning election in Massachusetts of Republican and staunch health reform opponent Scott Brown to succeed Senator Edward M. Kennedy was a tonic to Republicans opposed to the Obama administration’s long campaign to drive a health-reform package through Congress.

In the words of Robert Pear of The New York Times, the election of Brown buoyed health reform opponents, pointed up the discomfort many Americans now have about overhauling the health system, and “imperiled” the health reform movement. In his address, the president acknowledged the hurdles Democrats must overcome to get health reform back on track, but he also made it crystal clear that he had no intention of abandoning the effort.

“I didn’t take on health care because it was good politics,” Obama said. He acknowledged that health reform is “a complex issue, and the longer it was debated, the more skeptical people became.

“I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people,” he added. However, he added, “I will not walk away” from the effort to extend health coverage to uninsured Americans, bring down health costs through the practice of evidence-based medicine, lower insurance premiums and prevent what he called “insurance company abuses.”

Whatever fate lies in store this year for healthcare legislation, community pharmacy has a big stake in the reform movement. With or without a comprehensive overhaul, there are elements in both the House and Senate reform bills that retail pharmacy operators need to fight for in 2010.

Bruce Roberts, EVP and CEO of the National Community Pharmacists Association, reminded NCPA’s members of those priorities following the State of the Union speech. “Whatever is decided by politicians in Washington in the coming days or weeks,” he said Thursday, “it's still imperative that Congress” pass legislation to improve four key challenges addressed in both the House and Senate bills.

Those challenges, Roberts said, include the unsustainable level of current Medicare generic drug reimbursements; needless accreditation requirements for the selling of medical supplies to seniors; lack of “transparency” in the way pharmacy benefit managers operate and price their services; and the anemic level of support for pharmacist-delivered medication therapy management programs.

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