Uniting on Capitol, indies press for patient access

WASHINGTON —In case members of Congress had forgotten just how critical the nation’s community pharmacists are to patient access and the future of health care, nearly 500 independent pharmacy owners flocked to Capitol Hill last month to remind them.

The occasion was the National Community Pharmacists Association’s 42nd Annual Conference on Legislation and Government Affairs. Pharmacy representatives spent three days in one-on-one meetings and large-scale forums with lawmakers to air their concerns about issues addressed by the massive health-reform bill signed into law earlier this year.

Among the topics addressed: reimbursement for patient-care services like medication therapy management, new transparency rules for pharmacy benefit management companies and the right of independent pharmacies to sell diabetic supplies and durable medical equipment without restrictions or expensive insurance provisions. Attendees also thanked lawmakers for including pro-patient, pro-pharmacy provisions in the health-reform law and discussed its implementation and new bipartisan legislation.

“Each year, the federal government’s influence over independent community pharmacies grows as does our members’ commitment to educating decision-makers…while providing constructive solutions,” said NCPA EVP and CEO Bruce Roberts. “The attendees…came here to help ensure that congressional and federal officials are creating a level playing field that allows independent community pharmacies to continue working to improve health outcomes and reduce costs.”

“One of our focuses at NCPA…was to have a stronger voice in Washington, and if you look at what’s happened over time with this legislative conference, that’s one piece of the puzzle,” Roberts told reporters at the event. “Just a few years ago, we had 100 pharmacists showing up. Today, we’re approaching 500 pharmacists at this meeting.”

Among the priorities NCPA members raised with lawmakers: reining in the power of pharmacy benefit managers and what NCPA calls their opaque business practices. To that end, the group strongly backs congressional moves to impose new transparency requirements on the PBM industry.

The conference generated some 200 congressional visits, at which NCPA members pressed lawmakers for co-sponsorship and passage of bills that would require PBMs to disclose more about their pricing and operating practices, and eliminate barriers to the sale of diabetic products and DME.

Attendees also heard from officials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, including the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Several U.S. senators and members of Congress also addressed pharmacy owners.

The event concluded May 12 with a rally in front of the U.S. Capitol.

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