The Health Care Learning and Action Network was formally launched at the White House last month. President Obama and Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews Burwell were on hand to voice their support for the project, which is intended to enlist a wide range of participants in the health care sector to help develop innovative payment and delivery models to improve the quality of care and reduce overall costs.
Members of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores’ board, including chairman John Standley and chief executive officer Steve Anderson, attended the event. Several NACDS members — Rite Aid, where Standley is chairman and CEO; Walgreens; and Walmart — have signed on as partners in the network with entity-specific goals.
The leaders of chain pharmacy deserve credit for engaging in the process from the beginning and making sure the industry is actively involved in an initiative that has the potential to influence the future direction of health care in America.
A close look at Burwell’s remarks shows just how well aligned chain pharmacy is with the objectives of the Health Care Learning and Action Network and the broader health care goals established by the federal government.
“We’ve started making historic changes to the fundamental structure of our health care system,” she said. “We’ve seen an historic drop in the uninsured [as a result of the Affordable Care Act] as about 16 million have gained coverage. We have seen progress on affordability and quality.”
The drive to extend access to health care services dovetails with one of chain pharmacy’s long-standing strengths — the network of 25,000 stores that members of the trade class operate across the country. Those pharmacies, together with the 20,000 or so run by independent druggists, are the most easily accessible health care facilities in the United States, and they are staffed by professionals who command a high level of trust among consumers.
More important than their number is what goes on inside those pharmacies. No longer just medication dispensaries, community pharmacies today provide a growing array of services, including medication therapy management, immunizations, diagnostic testing, in-store clinics and wellness coaching.
Taken together, the ongoing drive to enable pharmacists to practice at the top of their license and the addition of services once restricted to physicians offices and other health care facilities are bringing about the transformation of retail pharmacies into true neighborhood health care centers.
And that’s just one aspect of the industry’s positive impact.
“For years,” Burwell noted, “we’ve felt the effects of a health care system that doesn’t spend our health dollars wisely — that incentivizes quantity of tests over quality of care, that prioritizes volume over value, that addresses conditions rather than patients. You can almost sum it up in a sentence: The prices we’ve paid far outpaced the progress we’ve made.
“It is within our common interest to build a health care system that delivers better care and spends money more wisely.”
Pharmacies are on the right side of that issue. Despite the ongoing controversy about the price of prescription medications and the cost to payers in the United States vis-à-vis their counterparts in other developed countries, treating patients on an outpatient basis with pharmaceuticals is a good investment, one that frequently obviates the need for other forms of care that are much more expensive and often harder on the patient. At roughly 10% of total health care costs, prescription drugs deliver a very reasonable return on the dollar.
“We still have a lot more to do to create a health care system that works for every American,” said Burwell. “We have a strategy to get there: Improve how providers are paid, how care is delivered and the way information is distributed. That means prioritizing wellness and prevention, and rewarding value and care coordination, rather than volume and care duplication.
“That means improving the way information is distributed to consumers, and providers can access their electronic health information when and where they need it. It means having more cost and quality information for more informed decisions.”
The course that chain pharmacy operators have set is in sync with that vision. By realizing its full potential and cooperating more effectively with other stakeholders, the industry will be a major contributor in the emergence of a better, more cost-effective heath care system.