Bruce Roberts leaves NCPA for a PBM with a difference

May 5, 2010

Even though Bruce Roberts strongly criticized pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) during his tenure as executive vice president and CEO of the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA), he is enthusiastic about the prospect of heading up a type of PBM.

Key Points

Roberts recently announced that after 9 years at the helm of NCPA, he will leave the organization on June 25 to join BeneCard PBF as president and CEO. BeneCard, a prescription benefit facilitator that focuses on administration of self-funded programs, is designed as a "transparent alternative" to the traditional PBM model.

BeneCard's PBF system is based on "absolute transparency" and a transaction-based model, said Roberts, "rather than all the smoke and mirrors in the current PBM model." He added, "It takes us to a place where we play much more of a neutral role. It is really helping facilitate the benefit in a way that helps serve the patient and ultimately the payor."

Transforming PBMs was one of five specific goals that Roberts brought with him when he took over at NCPA in 2001. At that time, he said, he went from a "comfortable" world of owning independent retail pharmacies to the uncomfortable and unfamiliar realm of associations.

When he went to NCPA, Roberts recalls, the organization was losing membership annually and most pharmacists were not interested in owning independent pharmacies.

"It [pharmacists' lack of interest in ownership] was very troubling. I wanted someone to continue the legacy I had begun 25 years ago," Roberts said.

Pharmacists' role evolves

Roberts also wanted to increase NCPA's political clout and enable pharmacists to play a more meaningful role in healthcare.

Roberts and the team at NCPA have been able to accomplish all five goals, he believes, although more work is needed to continue to strengthen those goals. "NCPA is on solid financial footing and membership is increasing every year. We are the 40th largest PAC [political action committee] in the country," he said.

As for politics, the passage of healthcare-reform legislation earlier this year also fueled Roberts' decision to move on from NCPA. "Healthcare reform speaks for itself. You can like it or not like it, but everything we advocated for is in that bill," he said.

In Roberts' view, now that reform legislation has passed, the real work begins. "One of the most significant things is how the pharmacist will be integrated into the healthcare system. Patient-centered medical home is a buzzword, but how does the pharmacist fit into that?" he asked.

Roberts has encouraged NCPA members to be vigilant and engaged after the passage of healthcare reform. "With implementation looming large, we are at the beginning, not the end, of a long process that will affect our profession for years to come," he wrote in a recent letter to members.

Meanwhile, Roberts feels that NCPA has accomplished the goals of improving pharmacists' role in healthcare and increasing their interest in ownership. "Truly, a few years ago, we had nobody interested in independent ownership. Now I go to speak at pharmacy schools and there are people lining up. We are opening an average of 100 new pharmacies every month," he said.

In addition, pharmacists are playing a much more important role in patient health than they did a few years ago. "If you take medicines correctly, ultimately you will save healthcare costs. Medicare Part D was our first win, but not all plans embrace [medication therapy management] like I thought they would," Roberts said.