Four Steps for Independent Pharmacies to Connect with Legislators

September 29, 2020

Beth Mitchell, Senior Director, Government Affairs, AmerisourceBergen, explains how independent community pharmacists can effectively advocate on behalf of their pharmacy on the federal and state levels.

Hi, my name is Beth Mitchell, and I'm Senior Director of Government Affairs at AmerisourceBergen.

And I think now is a time more important than ever, for pharmacists to connect with their local, state and federal legislators. And while we're living during this unusual time during the pandemic, there are several ways that pharmacists can get involved in advocacy using different virtual formats.

And I think it's important that they use some of the technology that we have today to continue to advocate for issues important to them, their patients and communities, so that they can continue to provide high quality care. So it does take time and effort to build these relationships, just as it does for pharmacists to get to know their community and the patients they're serving. But that time and effort is incredibly important, and will be very impactful to establish meaningful communication with legislators to advance legislation that's important to pharmacists and the patients they serve.

So there's 4 different ways that I'd like to go over about how pharmacists can get engaged with elected officials at the state, local and national levels. One of those ways is pharmacists can actually this is a very quick and easy thing that they can do is just get involved in grassroots campaigns and calls to action.

While we can't go to our state capitol right now, we can't go up to Capitol Hill in person and meet with our elected officials. There are definitely different actions that pharmacists can take to get involved, and participating in a grassroots campaign is easy and quick to do.

I'm sure we all get contacted on a variety of legislative topics, urging us to take action. And it's really, really easy to do this, through different state pharmacy associations and also through the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA), which has a website and they have a legislative action center, which is publicly available. Anyone can go to that page, and they have email templates for letters on priority legislative issues, such as direct and indirect remuneration (DIR) fees, provider status, Medicare, Medicaid reimbursement, that pharmacists can use and tailor and send to their elected officials to contact them about an issue of importance.

And it's really important that pharmacists take time to personalize that message. They have direct experience with how a certain issue has impacted their business, their pharmacy and their patients, so the more you can make it personal and specific to how that issues impacting your community which the elected official serves, I think the more impactful that outreach can be.

Another tip on how to really be active on legislative issues of importance to pharmacists, especially while we're all social distancing, is a lot of elected officials are hosting video or tele townhall meetings. This is something that I've seen many elected officials do well before the pandemic started because it's such a quick and effective way for legislators to connect with their constituents.

I would really encourage you, if you don't know who your legislators are, which is step 1, finding out who are the members of Congress, state legislators and local officials that represent you. You can quickly find that out by going to our independent voice comm which is a grassroots website that our company at AmerisourceBergen, and Good Neighbor Pharmacy (GNP) have created to help pharmacists.

After you identify who your elected officials are, they all have websites, many of them have social media, which we'll talk about in a minute. And you can look to see when their next upcoming tele town hall or video town hall meeting is that gives you an opportunity to listen to what they're saying. Listen to the issues of importance that your elected officials are prioritizing. Even more important, you should take advantage of that opportunity and raise an issue that's important to you and your pharmacy and your patients.

A third tip on how you can get involved in legislative advocacy using some of when we can't meet to meet face to face is by leveraging social media. So almost every member of congress and a majority of state legislators are on social media. It might be on LinkedIn, it might be Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, I think they all have different preferences on what social media they prefer to use to have a voice and to connect with their different constituents. But this is such a quick and easy way as a pharmacist to voice a concern or voice your support for legislative issue.

I've seen several pharmacists create some very effective video messages that only takes, might be a 30-second message, a 60-second message, talking about an issue, why it's important to you, your patients and why the elected officials should do something about it, whether it's cosponsor legislation, or urge passage of legislation. That's such a quick and easy way that you can engage with elected officials when you can't meet face to face, you just want to make sure you tag the elected official when you share the video on social media.

And really try to be brief and succinct and identify specific patient populations that are impacted, so that they can better understand the issue. So if it's a Medicare reimbursement issue, you want to make sure to tell the elected official, this is an issue that's impacting the elderly patients 65 and older that are in your community, they're important voters, and we really need you to do something about it.

So last, but definitely not least, is my favorite tip that I'll share with you. And I think if you walk away with 1 thing you remember from this video, I'd like for it to be this. It's really important to continue to request meetings with your legislators and their staff who are equally as important in terms of who your target audiences. And whether it's a phone call meeting, a Zoom meeting, Facebook Live, whatever the web conferencing platform is, it's important now more than ever, to continue to have that one on one outreach. And if you're not sure where to start, please feel free to reach out to our government affairs team, we'd be happy to help you. Whether it's on Zoom or another web-based conferencing system, this is a great way to stay engaged with elected officials, and our team at AmerisourceBergen. The government affairs team just since March, when we've all been doing our meetings virtually, we've engaged with more than 300 federal and state legislators through Zoom meetings through conference calls, through Teams meetings, whatever the preferred platform is.

It's actually been a very effective tool for our team to really stay engaged with elected officials, and has given us a lot of opportunities to raise issues of importance, especially issues of importance to pharmacists and patients. I think this is probably would be my number 1 tip.

Last but not least, on how you can stay engaged and voice issues of importance to you to elected officials when we can't meet face to face while we're all social distancing, and being careful during this unusual time, unfortunately, we can't meet face to face with our elected officials. But we can take action in a variety of different ways. And I think it's important for pharmacists to leverage the technology that we do have available.

And I would really encourage you to pick up the phone or send a tweet to your elected official on an issue. At a meeting last week, I was in a congressional office talking about the importance of getting pharmacists as established as providers of Medicare and the staffer told me that they really weren't hearing a lot recently from pharmacists on this topic.

And that was a really great reminder for just how important your voices and why we really need pharmacists in numbers to really come together and make sure they're contacting their elected officials’ offices and their staff. Whether it's social media phone call, video meeting, sending an email, there's so many ways you can do that. And it's more important now than ever to continue to do that outreach. So I really encourage you to get involved, and hopefully those 4 tips are helpful.