The fourth annual National Association of Chain Drug Stores RxImpact Day on Capitol Hill wrapped up March 22 on a high note. With pharmacists and pharmacy students from around the country able to secure more than 350 meetings with members of the U.S. House and Senate and their staffs last week, most lawmakers who serve on congressional committees with jurisdiction on healthcare issues got to hear pharmacy’s position on prescription reimbursements, fair payment for pharmacy services and the proposed merger of pharmacy benefit management giants Express Scripts and Medco.
These kinds of outreach efforts to those in power are critical to the future of pharmacy as a profession and a viable industry. Having sat in on congressional hearings and at press conferences with many members of Congress, I can tell you that many of the most influential lawmakers on Capitol Hill still only have a dim understanding of the realities of the pharmacy profession, and of its untapped ability to contribute more fully to the nation’s frayed healthcare network, serve patients more effectively and save billions in healthcare costs.
Pharmacy certainly has its champions on the Hill. But let’s keep in mind that members of the House and Senate are bombarded every day with a slew of national and international concerns and priorities, not to mention a barrage of competing messages from other healthcare stakeholders.
Sometimes, those messages run directly counter to the interests of community pharmacy. One prime example: the pharmacy benefit management industry’s continuing effort to promote the cost-saving benefits, real or imagined, of shifting patients covered by Medicare, Medicaid and the military’s Tricare program into mandatory mail-order pharmacy benefit programs.
There’s also constant pressure to downplay the benefits that pharmacists provide to patients through disease management services, medication therapy management, immunizations and other interventions beyond basic dispensing and counseling. By the same token, the concept of reimbursing pharmacists adequately for those services is under steady assault under the guise of cost-cutting efforts.
Some senators and members of Congress believe them. And many more don’t quite know what to believe. With health costs rising to unsustainable levels, the temptation to cut short-term Medicare and Medicaid costs willy-nilly – by cutting reimbursement rates for generics or for MTM, for instance – must be hard to resist in budget negotiations.
Lawmakers have to be convinced that spending for those and other pharmacy services pays off big in long-term benefits and cost savings. What’s more, they need to be reminded that branded and generic pharmaceuticals remain one of the best bargains in health care, by helping patients manage their conditions and keeping them out of acute-care centers and hospitals.
It’s up to pharmacy professionals and the companies they work for to deliver that message. RxImpact Day is one effective, high-profile way to lobby Congress directly on pharmacy’s behalf, but the campaign to tell pharmacy’s story can’t end when the white coats disappear from Capitol Hill for another year.
If you’re a pharmacy student or a newly minted professional, it’s not too early to get engaged in that campaign. This is a long-term, profession-wide fight for professional standing, a fair reimbursement and a viable future for pharmacy.
To download a copy of the DSN special supplement that went to members of Congress, “Rx Impact: Community pharmacy brings innovation to patient care,” click here.