Only the other side would root against Anderson

One year on the job and if you don’t like where National Association of Chain Drug Stores president and chief executive officer Steve Anderson is leading community pharmacy you must be rooting for the other side.

For years I have heard this industry talk about the need to “tell its story” to lawmakers, policy advisors, the White House, the state houses, the American people, moms, caregivers and anyone else they thought should listen. The problem was there were too many voices, trying to tell too many different stories and all America heard was a lot of noise from community pharmacy. Meanwhile, the PBM and mail order lobbies, Big Pharma and other key stakeholders in the future of health care in America were being heard loud and clear.

Now, I’m not trying to tell you that Steve Anderson fixed everything. To be sure, as he acknowledged in his opening remarks at NACDS Regional Chain Conference, last month, in Bonita Springs, Fla., recalling the ancient Tibetan proverb: “When you cross the mountain; more mountains. That’s pretty good imagery for the ever-present challenges in policymaking.”

What has characterized the success of Anderson’s leadership has been his ability to work with other retail pharmacy interests and to engage support at the grass-roots level around a single message, so that in essence, when community pharmacy goes to tell its story they all are reading from the same script. That is how you take the cacophony of millions of voices and concentrate it into a single, undeniable declaration of purpose; something people just can’t ignore.

But then, you need something else. You need the script that everybody is supposed to be reading from. Steve Anderson and his team have put together one hell of a story that puts a face on community pharmacy—literally. In fact, that is the tagline of the new ad campaign NACDS unveiled last month at Regional Conference: “Pharmacies. The face of neighborhood healthcare.”

The new campaign, aimed at educating lawmakers, policy advisors, presidential candidates and assorted other Beltway-area politicos, not to mention, local consumers and the national media, turned out to be a bit of a learning experience for community pharmacy as well. The ads, which are being featured in Washington, D.C.-based publications, as well as on the radio, Internet, billboards, buses, trains and various other commuter settings throughout the area, were tested in a series of focus groups aimed at measuring consumer perceptions of the role of community pharmacy in the U.S. healthcare system. (For more, see story page 1.)

“There was an ‘ah-hah’ moment for the vast majority of participants when they were presented the case that pharmacy is essential to the healthcare system,” Anderson explained. “Personally they had benefited from pharmacy services many times. They had obtained a prescription while away from home. They enjoyed access to pharmacists’ advice and medicine when a child was in need. They knew a pharmacist helped an elderly parent when a new drug was prescribed. They trusted that someone was going to help ensure they weren’t taking incompatible medications.

“But they just hadn’t made the connection that pharmacy is part of the healthcare system, and should be treated that way in public policy,” he said.

The new campaign really is just the tip of the iceberg, or to stick with Anderson’s old Tibetan metaphor, that’s just one mountain along the pass.

“If you think about the imagery of crossing a mountain only to see more mountains, how about seeing the same mountain twice?” Anderson said, recalling again the Tibetan proverb. “That’s what we encountered on the TRICARE bill.”

In many ways, the TRICARE experience is a strong illustration of the trials and tribulations retail pharmacy has faced in dealing with the Bush White House, and the progress it has made on Capitol Hill over the past year. Of course, two major occurrences have helped to somewhat reverse the negative fortune of pharmacy. One was the shift in power in Congress, as the new Democratic leadership stands seemingly poised to vote in opposition to just about anything President Bush supports. The other has been the leadership of Steve Anderson.

Community pharmacy scored a major victory last year when Congress passed a Defense Authorization bill that included the “pro-soldier/pro-savings” provisions that would preserve the prescription at retail option for millions of active U.S. military personnel, veterans and their families. Bush waited until Congress was in recess to veto the bill citing the situation in Iraq. No matter: Congress sent the President a new version of the bill that didn’t include the Iraq provision.

The AMP injunction that has at least temporarily delayed the shift to the new, proposed drug reimbursement model for Medicaid that would have cut billion of dollars at the expense of community pharmacy has been another monumental victory for this industry that has come under Anderson’s leadership. The six-month delay on the introduction of the new tamper-proof pads for Medicaid prescriptions was another.

I don’t think that 13 months ago there was a person in retail pharmacy who thought NACDS would be able to turn the tide on issues so critical to the future of this industry as quickly as it has in Anderson’s first year on the job. Except maybe the NACDS board of directors and the special committee selected two years ago to recruit him.

And perhaps Drug Store News, too; because, as we have written on numerous occasions, and by virtue of our relationship with our sister publication, Nation’s Restaurant News, we know that this is Anderson-ian association management: 101; strictly by the numbers:

$750 billion in annual revenues.

employing more than 3.2 million people.

total payroll exceeding $68 billion.

responsible for more than $10 billion in federal income tax; more than $20 million in state sales tax.

with perhaps the best chance of any other healthcare stakeholder to do anything to reduce the estimated $177 billion this country pays annually in costs associated with poor drug adherence and compliance, and the $1.3 trillion we pay to treat the seven most chronic health conditions in America—not prevent, but treat.

That’s the story of community pharmacy; it’s a strong message and these days it reads loud and clear.

So, one year into his leadership of NACDS and as he himself cautions, there are still plenty of mountains that lie ahead for this industry. But you have to like the direction Steve Anderson has this industry pointed in these days; either that, or you must be rooting for the other side.

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