NCPA’s new chief likely to shift focus to the Hill

Kathleen Jaeger

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The natural affinity that has sprung up between independent pharmacy and the generic drug industry — both viewed as underdogs in the relentless fight for market position and profits: one versus powerful chain and big-box retailers, the other versus the far more entrenched and well-funded branded drug industry — was never more fully realized than it was at the end of October, when the National Community Pharmacists Association introduced its new top manager to its members at the group’s annual meeting.

The NCPA’s new EVP and CEO is Kathleen Jaeger, formerly head of the Generic Pharmaceutical Association. Jaeger, a coolly competent industry spearhead and Washington insider, will bring a markedly different leadership style to the independent pharmacy group than that of her predecessor, the able Bruce Roberts, who retired in June. Both are pharmacists; Jaeger, like Roberts, is steeped in the allure of community pharmacy and is the daughter of an independent pharmacist, as well as a pharmacist by training. But where Roberts brought passion borne of long experience operating his own pharmacies to his role as the face of independent pharmacy, Jaeger likely will put a different stamp on the NCPA.

A lawyer as well as a pharmacist by training, Jaeger has the kind of inside-the-Beltway contacts and legal credentials that the organization may need at this stage of its long existence. Before taking command of the GPhA eight years ago, she honed her Washington chops by chairing the Food and Drug Practice for the McKenna and Cuneo law firm and for Kirkpatrick and Lockhart.

While at the GPhA, she worked hard to win respect and visibility for generic drugs and their manufacturers among the public and on Capitol Hill. And that’s exactly the kind of advocacy that the NCPA needs—particularly in this unsettled time of rapid change and uncertainty as the massive reforms coming to the U.S. healthcare system begin to work their way through every facet of professional practice, including pharmacy.

It’s no secret that independent community pharmacies have been hit particularly hard by this brutal recession—not to mention by the longer-term challenges that preceded it, like the steady erosion of pharmacy profit margins. But their role still is a critical one, especially in rural areas where big chains don’t tread. And that’s to say nothing of their economic importance as the small, locally owned businesses that every economy needs in order to thrive.

Jaeger’s experience at the GPhA and as a second-generation pharmacist is a big asset for the NCPA, and if she can replicate her GPhA successes there, then independent pharmacies across the country are likely to benefit as well.

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