“It was the advocacy of pharmacists, taking the time to tell me about their problems with PBMs and other issues that affect them that led me to introduce HR 1316, the Prescription Drug Price Transparency Act,” said Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA). “When you tell your own story, it is very easy to see that you are a vital part of health care. What we need to move the bill is more voices telling the story to more Congressmen and Senators.”
Collins was part of an Advocacy in Action panel discussion on Friday at ThoughtSpot 2017 in Las Vegas. Danny Cross, RPh, owner of Southwest Pharmacy and Advanced Medications, and President of the New Mexico Pharmacy Business Council, had a similar success story.
“In New Mexico, we have seen very good movement on getting provider status, prescribing authority, and Naloxone by advocating with our state legislators,” Cross said. “We got a bill to regulate PBMs and we are working with the state insurance commission on transaction fees. Working with the state pharmacy association, we used phone calls from individual pharmacists in legislators’ home districts to get bills passed and signed into law.”
State and congressional representative are not hostile to pharmacists or their concerns with PBMs, DIR fees, provider status, access to patients and other issues, Cross pointed out. They simply don’t know about them.
“Our plates are full,” he said. “With issues like health care, tax reform, and the debt ceiling so prominent, industry-specific issues take advocacy. And the most effective way to be an advocate is to build a relationship with your representative.”
Pharmacy is no stranger to advocacy. AmerisourceBergen was the first wholesaler to establish an advocacy office in Washington, DC. The National Community Pharmacy Association and other pharmacy associations have been advocating at the federal and state levels for years.
But legislators are perennial candidates. And candidates focus on those who can help them get re-elected, members of the panel noted.
“If you don’t know your Congressman on a first-name basis, that is your first step,” Collins said. “Invite him or her to your store, introduce them to your staff. Talk about your customers, the trust they have in you, the problems that PBMs and narrow provider networks and lack of provider status create in delivering care. And when there is a bill like HR 1316, tell them why it is important that they support it.”
The biggest barrier to effective pharmacy advocacy is pharmacists themselves. Only 10% to 20% of independent pharmacy owners lobby their legislators at any level. That represents about 1,000 pharmacies.
“Everyone else is free-riding,” said NCPA CEO Doug Hoey, RPh, MBA. “We have been able to do amazing things with 1,000 owners. Just think of what we could do with ten times that many voices. You can’t ride free anymore.”
AmerisourceBergen is one of the most active industry advocates for community pharmacy, according to Beth Mitchell, AmerisourceBergen’s Director of Government Affairs.
“The issues we lobby on are for our customers, for you” she said. “Our role is to amplify your voice. But we can’t do that if you don’t raise your voice in the first place. Meet your Senators, meet your Congressman, let them know what is important for you. We can help get your message across.”
AmerisourceBergen launched the industry’s first advocacy website, OurIndependentVoice.com. The website provides basic facts and talking points on key issues that affect independent pharmacy.
The most important issues for 2017 year include DIR fees, provider status, access to patients, and fair reimbursement. The website also helps pharmacists locate their legislators and suggests different ways to contact them. There are even message templates for those who are not sure of how to approach a legislator.
“If the PBMs keep you silent, they win,” Collins said. “We can talk about advocacy, but only you can do it. We can share ideas, but only you can implement them. What you do matters. And if you are not willing to engage, don’t expect somebody else to do it for you.”