As ASHP conferences are wont to be, the midyear meeting, held in Las Vegas last December, offered an opportunity for its officers and staffers to review their accomplishments over the past year and anticipate the challenges ahead. ASHP's record this time reflected some good, some bad, and some issues that are still up in the air.
First, the good news. Congress is now considering National Health Service Corps legislation that would provide partial school loan forgiveness to healthcare professionals who agree to work in rural or underserved areas for a set number of years. Although the Senate legislation does not expressly name pharmacists as among the health professionals, a Senate committee report mentions the group's intent to include them. On the House side, ASHP has submitted language to include pharmacists in the bill. Joseph M. Hill, director of federal legislative affairs at ASHP, told attendees he's confident this legislation would get Congress' approval.
Another piece of news ASHP can crow about is the recent passage of a Food & Drug Administration bill that would require the agency to standardize restricted drug distribution programs. Before the bill was passed, ASHP had expressed concerns to FDA that restricted distribution programs are overly burdensome and can pose a barrier to access to drugs. Heeding ASHP's concerns, a section of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act calls for a committee composed of physicians, pharmacists, and others to be set up for the purpose of standardizing restricted distribution programs. Hill cautioned, though, that FDA has revealed no details yet on how such programs would be standardized. He added that FDA would not proceed until it gets funding from Congress.
On the minus side, ASHP had called for a reimbursement formula of ASP (average sales price) plus 6% for separately payable Medicare outpatient drugs under the prospective payment system for 2008. Unfortunately, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services went with ASP plus 5%, ASHP's government affairs staffers told attendees at the meeting.
Moving along to plans for this year, ASHP officers announced to attendees, estimated at a record-setting 24,000, that it will hold an IV Safety Summit this spring. The summit is designed to counteract such drug errors as the recent one that befell Dennis Quaid's twins at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. The actor's newborns were inadvertently given an overdose of heparin, a problem that has happened in other hospitals before. Speaking at a press conference, ASHP's executive VP Henri Manasse said that such errors are a result of staff noncompliance with hospital protocol. Can you imagine if nuclear medicine professionals were to deviate from protocol? he asked rhetorically. To be held with the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, the U.S. Pharmacopeia, and others, the summit will attempt to develop a set of recommendations to standardize the use of concentrated electrolytes and prevent errors associated with infusions.
Also on tap for 2008 is the presidential election. So which candidate will the association support? Manasse told reporters that it's still too early to back any one in particular. However, he added that ASHP has policy on its books supporting universal coverage and access to care.
One issue ASHP will push for strongly going forward is the standardization of technician training. The association will work with state legislators to require that technicians complete not just a tech training program but also one that is accredited by ASHP before they can be registered by their state boards. Manasse disclosed that besides Walgreen, CVS has now signed on to participate in ASHP's tech accreditation program. Since each of these chains encompasses about 6,000 pharmacies and ASHP is in discussion with other chains, he hopes to reach a tipping point on this issue soon.
Besides the education of technicians, the postgraduate training of residents is also high on ASHP's agenda. Association officials declared at the press conference that even though the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy recently came out against requiring residency training as a prerequisite to direct patient care, ASHP is still committed to this resolution, which it passed last summer. Graduation from pharmacy school doesn't make one competent to provide care, Manasse insisted; it's just the beginning.