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Good Neighbor Pharmacies are independents, but they are not alone. AmerisourceBergen is focusing attention on its growing support for advocacy efforts in Washington, DC, and state capitols nationwide.
“If there was ever a time to be active in Washington, it is now,” said Robert P. Mauch, PharmD, PhD, Group President for Pharmaceutical Distribution and Strategic Global Sourcing for AmerisourceBergen. “If your goal is patient care and patient access to care, you have to realize that the legislative process can have a significant influence on both.”
Health care is in the midst of massive transition, regardless of which legislative health-care proposals advance or fail in Washington. Transformation presents massive challenges to pharmacists and other providers, but it also offers massive opportunities. And the most effective way to use those opportunities is to get a seat at the legislative table, said Mauch.
It is easy to be cynical about advocacy, Mauch added. The prevailing wisdom suggests Washington is dysfunctional and that small business doesn’t stand a chance against entrenched corporate interests. The real world of politics is far more responsive.
Mauch pointed to the 2016 attempt by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to restrict access to community-based cancer care through the Oncology Care Model demonstration project. A concerted outcry by community oncologists, patients, and other stakeholders forced the agency to cancel the project, which would have changed the Medicare Part B prescription drug program and pushed patients out of community cancer centers.
The implication for pharmacists is clear: become an active part of the political process or be a victim of it.
“Taking a seat at the policy table does not guarantee success, but it guarantees input into whatever eventual legislation and regulation emerges,” Mauch said. “The aphorism in Washington is that if you are not at the table, you’re on the menu.”
The good news is that pharmacy as a whole is highly active. Manufacturers, wholesalers, chains, industry associations, and other stakeholders all maintain an active presence in Washington. The National Community Pharmacists Association and other groups bring pharmacists to Washington every year to lobby their legislators.
AmerisourceBergen has taken the lead to help independent pharmacists build legislative contacts and clout on a year-round basis to focus on issues of special interest to store owners.
OurIndependentVoice.com, which was launched at ThoughtSpot 2016, is the most visible portion of a larger effort that keeps AmerisourceBergen in constant contact with legislators and key staffers at all levels of government. The website provides basic facts and talking points on key issues that affect independent pharmacy. Since the site launched, it has had more than 11,000 page views.
The most important issues this year are all part of the global pressure on reimbursement. Key areas 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.
AmerisourceBergen is not unique in its legislative outreach efforts, Mauch said. What sets it apart is its unique position of advocating for its customers, independent pharmacists, not on its own behalf. And those customers can and do play key roles in their communities.
“If you are a congressperson and go to a town hall meeting, you know that pharmacists, especially independent pharmacists, are important local leaders,” he said. “When pharmacists speak, their patients listen and their communities listen. That gives pharmacists a stronger voice in Washington than they realize. Our goal is to help independent pharmacists find that voice and use it more effectively.”
Educating legislators and working to strengthen health care is not a one-time effort. The way to win in Washington is to show up, today, tomorrow and every day until the battle is won, Mauch said. And to keep coming back to fight for other issues.
“You have to be consistent and you have to be committed,” Mauch said. “Nothing in Washington moves quickly. That’s by design with checks and balances. You have to show up and be part of the discussion. We want to make sure independent pharmacists have a seat at the table and a part in shaping the transformation of health care.”