WASHINGTON — At a time when the American political system and legislative process are, more often than not, characterized by gridlock, and the ongoing presidential campaign is riddled with examples of what are seemingly new lows in civilized discourse and rational debate, it’s refreshing to see moments when our democracy functions properly.
One day last month the nation’s capital witnessed such an occurrence when the National Association of Chain Drug Stores conducted its eighth-annual RxImpact Day on Capitol Hill. The event brought together 385 retail pharmacy advocates — high-level executives, including Walgreens president Alex Gourlay, Rite Aid Corp. chief executive officer John Standley and Randy Edeker, chairman, president and CEO of Hy-Vee Inc. and current NACDS chairman; front-line practitioners; and students.
The group set out to inform members of Congress and staff members about the contributions that the profession makes to keeping their constituents healthy, and persuade them to support pro-pharmacy, pro-patient legislation.
Thirty-one percent of NACDS’ members participated, with the level of representation among individuals working for the chains rising 5% over 2015, as did 43 colleges and schools of pharmacy. In all, 43 states were represented.
The groundwork for the contingent was laid by the NACDS staff, whose assiduous preparation enabled RxImpact Day attendees to meet with 90% of congressional offices. Among the legislators with whom the pharmacy advocates met were such notables as Sens. Charles Grassley (R., Iowa) and Ron Wyden (D., Ore.), and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R., Wash.).
The message that members of Congress heard was consistent — already an essential component of the health care system, retail pharmacy is poised to do more to help achieve the goals of expanding access to care, improving quality and containing costs. High on the agenda were such issues as securing provider status for pharmacists under Medicaid, expansion of funding for medication therapy management under Medicare and ensuring beneficiaries are able to utilize the pharmacy of their choice under Tricare, which covers members of the military and their dependents.
“We always knew that bringing these white-coated pharmacists to Capitol Hill would send a powerful message,” said NACDS president and CEO Steve Anderson, who was the driving force behind the creation of RxImpact Day in 2008, when 70 pharmacy advocates from 25 states participated.
The cumulative effect of RxImpact Day and NACDS’ other lobbying efforts, particularly its skillful use of the debate on the Affordable Care Act to raise the profile of retail pharmacy, has helped transform the profession from something of an afterthought in the mind of policy makers into a force to be reckoned with. The industry’s clout has been particularly evident on such important issues as Medicaid reimbursements, MTM and the fight against prescription drug abuse.
RxImpact Day 2016 maintained chain pharmacy’s momentum, giving legislators an opportunity to hear from people involved at all levels of the pharmacy profession. Participants in past RxImpact Days differed over whether senators and representatives were more responsive hearing from the CEO of a multibillion-dollar company or a pharmacist who has face-to-face interaction with patients, but all concurred that NACDS has put together a powerful advocacy vehicle.
In addition, the event served to energize attendees and encourage them to continue their work to promote pharmacy in the communities across the country where they live and work. At a dinner the evening before the meetings on Capitol Hill, three industry stalwarts were recognized. Steve McCann, vice president of pharmacy at Supervalu, won the RxImpact Key Contact of the Year award for his work as an established source of information for members of Congress.
Dan Miller, senior vice president of pharmacy at Rite Aid, and Mike Duteau, vice president of business development and strategic relations at Kinney Drugs, were honored for leadership as part of the Chairman’s Inner Circle, which supports the NACDS Political Action Committee.
“The awards send the clear message that grassroots advocacy and political engagement are essential for pharmacy patient care,” Anderson commented.
More evidence of the seriousness with which NACDS takes that stance came in the form of the first in a series of new video ads that was unveiled at RxImpact Day. Part of the RxImpact Votes campaign, the 30-second spot, titled “Effective,” is designed to get people involved in pharmacy to volunteer and vote for the candidates of their choice.
“The first ad makes a clear case of pharmacy personnel: We talk all the time about helping patients take their medications, and it is just as important to encourage voters to make their mark on the elections,” Anderson explained.
“NACDS members operate pharmacies in every state and congressional district. Nearly all Americans — 86% — live within five miles of a community pharmacy. The point of NACDS RxImpact Votes is to demonstrate that the people of pharmacy are as politically engaged as they are patient accessible.”
NACDS deserves a lot of credit for making RxImpact Day one of the high points of the year on the industry calendar. By bringing together pharmacy professionals and students from throughout the United States to interact with policy makers, the association has taken an important step toward its goal of establishing pharmacy as the face of neighborhood health care.
The 31% participation rate in RxImpact Day among member companies is impressive, but how much more influence might the industry have if that level were to double, or even triple, in coming years? Chains that didn’t attend need to ask themselves what’s in the best interests of the profession — and their own.