Inside This Issue - News
Lawmakers learn about power of Rx
April 9th, 2012
WASHINGTON – Hundreds of chain drug executives, pharmacists and pharmacy students from across the country converged on Capitol Hill last month to lobby lawmakers about the vital role community pharmacy plays in the nation’s health care system.
The mass gathering, which saw a sea of white coats strolling through the halls of the House of Representatives and Senate office buildings surrounding the Capitol, was part of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores’ fourth annual RxImpact Day on Capitol Hill.
The daylong event saw pharmacy advocates from 41 states meet with slightly more than 350 senators and representatives or their staffs.
During their discussions with lawmakers the pharmacy advocates focused on a variety of critical issues facing the pharmacy industry, including the Federal Trade Commission’s pending review of the merger of Express Scripts Inc. and Medco Health Solutions Inc., increasing access to medication therapy management (MTM) services, and maintaining pharmacy choice and access in the Medicaid and Tricare programs.
After four consecutive years of meeting with federal lawmakers, many RxImpact Day attendees said they felt that lawmakers have a better understanding of where pharmacy fits into the overall health care picture.
“They are more in tune now with what’s going on in pharmacy,” Bartell Drugs chief operating officer Ed Littleton said after meeting with aides from the offices of Sen. Maria Cantwell, Rep. Rick Larson and Rep. Jim McDermott, three Democratic legislators from the drug chain’s home state of Washington.
“It’s no longer as if we’re speaking a foreign language,” Littleton said.
Pharmacy executives realize that it takes some time for legislators to familiarize themselves with the multitude of issues facing community pharmacy, but they note that the diligence of pharmacy advocates is starting to pay dividends.
“These have clearly been the best meetings I’ve been to since I’ve been coming to RxImpact Day,” Thrifty White Drug president and chief executive officer Bob Narveson said after his first four meetings of the day. “The elected officials have been an active part of the discussions, and they asked very poignant questions.”
Just as they did a year ago, the pharmacy advocates at this year’s RxImpact Day urged lawmakers to support legislation that would expand MTM in federally funded health care programs.
Unlike in past years, however, the issue of the consolidation of pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) and the impact that could have on community pharmacies was on everyone’s mind.
In almost every meeting the pharmacy advocates urged lawmakers to write to FTC regulators with their concerns about how a merger of Express Scripts and Medco would limit choice by forcing more patients to fill their prescriptions by mail.
NACDS and its members stress that the merger, which would create a PBM that controls nearly 60% of all prescriptions dispensed in the country, needs closer scrutiny.
“The people we met with understand that something with such a big role in health care should be required to play by some rules and regulations,” said Kerr Drug vice president of pharmacy and government affairs Mark Gregory.
Meanwhile, representatives of Walgreen Co., which has been at the heart of the PBM issue since it severed ties with Express Scripts earlier this year, noted that awareness of the impact unchecked pharmacy benefits managers can have on the country’s health care system is spreading on Capitol Hill.
“They seem to have a better understanding of the PBM issue in just the last 90 days,” president of pharmacy health and wellness services and solutions Kermit Crawford said after meeting with lawmakers from Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia and Nebraska. “And a lot of it is because of our issue.
“The proposed merger has opened their eyes that what happened to us could happen to other pharmacies.”