WASHINGTON — More than 100 community pharmacy advocates from over 30 states met with legislators as part of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores’ inaugural RxImpact Day on Capitol Hill on June 17.
The meetings were supplemented by approximately 1,000 letters submitted through NACDS’ RxImpact web site as part of a grassroots campaign to contact members of Congress.
“NACDS RxImpact Day on Capitol Hill is the cornerstone event of the association’s newly launched grassroots advocacy program,” said Steve Anderson, president and chief executive officer of NACDS. “The timing of the health care reform debate could not afford a better opportunity for pharmacy to urge lawmakers to include pro-patient, pro-pharmacy policies in those discussions.”
Indeed, the meetings occurred on the same day that the Senate Health Care Committee began marking up its health care reform package, while the Senate Finance Committee was expected to unveil its version within days, NACDS senior vice president of government affairs and public policy Carol Kelly told industry participants in a morning briefing.
She urged NACDS members to stress three major points during meetings: average manufacturer’s price (AMP) for Medicaid pharmacy reimbursement, better benefits for medication therapy management (MTM), and reversal of the durable medical equipment (DME) requirements imposed on pharmacies by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
During a keynote address at a welcome dinner the night before, participants had also gotten advice from Rep. Mike Ross (D., Ark.). Ross received the NACDS Congressional Leadership Award for his commitment to the industry and his advocacy efforts. In his speech, Ross pointed out that members of Congress typically have 15 to 30 appointments a day while in Washington, so staying “on message” during the brief meetings is vitally important.
NACDS vice president of federal government affairs Paul Kelly noted that the health care reform legislation being drafted in the Senate will be the key bill in Congress this year, but he added that the Senate may craft a smaller package later this year.
Consequently, if the industry’s priority issues — AMP, MTM and DME — fail to get included in the big bill, they may have a second chance in a more limited bill. At least one lawmaker echoed that view.
For participants unfamiliar with the workings of Capitol Hill, RxImpact Day provided revealing insights into the ways of government.
For example, Karen Jonas, director of professional practice for the Michigan Pharmacists Association, and Butch Bowlby, pharmacy district manager for Pamida Stores Inc., together with NACDS’ Carol Kelly, met with Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Mich.). Bowlby pointed out that Pamida’s 12 pharmacies, located in rural areas of Michigan, would be seriously affected by failure to reform AMP reimbursement levels, potentially reducing patients’ access to needed medications — a key goal of the administration’s health care reform effort.
Jonas, who has worked with Rep. Rogers previously on industry issues, added that not only rural pharmacies but also many in underserved urban areas would be affected. In response, Rogers voiced skepticism about the administration’s plans to cover the costs of its proposed reform package. He straightforwardly suggested that pharmacy should perhaps look to other legislation to meet its goals.
Still, Bowlby and Jonas expressed satisfaction with their meeting, as did others. “Personally, it’s exciting,” said Tony Schmid, director of pharmacy operations for Pamida. “As Rep. Ross said, it’s the first time we’ve come together as an industry.”
Both Schmid and Bill Ladwig, vice president of professional services at Lewis Drugs, look forward to repeating RxImpact Day. “The premise is there,” said Ladwig. “And we have a vested interest in following through.”
The NACDS effort was recognized in the Congressional Record, the official publication of each day’s congressional proceedings. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R., Wash.) inserted a statement noting the event and acknowledging pharmacy’s contribution.
“I applaud the work of pharmacies and their pharmacists,” she wrote. “I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join me in recognizing the first annual RxImpact Day on Capitol Hill and congratulating the more than 150 pharmacy leaders, pharmacists, students and executives and the pharmacy community for their contributions to the good health of the American people.”