NACDS Total Store Expo 2021 Highlights Pandemic Successes, the Future of Pharmacy

NACDS Total Store Expo 2021 proved to be a success, with speakers covering key issues related to the pandemic, vaccine rollout, the changing health care landscape, and opportunities for growth.

The National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) 2021 Total Store Expo (TSE) kicked off virtually on Monday. In Session I, NACDS leadership and an economic expert discussed key industry issues, NACDS initiatives, and future economic opportunities.1

Steven C. Anderson, FASAE, CAE, IOM, president and chief executive officer of NACDS, along with NACDS Chair Colleen Lindholz, president of Kroger Health, The Kroger Co, and Mark Zandi, chief economist and cofounder of Moody’s Analytics, offered their valuable insights on current economic issues and successes that have influenced pharmacies over the course of 2020 and 2021.

Just prior to the pandemic, in 2019, NACDS board of directors and staff were at work shaping a “bold new approach to public policy issues,” Anderson recalled. "And then in 2020, of course, COVID-19 turned everything on its head. That became the focus, and you answered the call,” he said to the pharmacist attendees. “At the same time, suppliers ramped up, moved product, got creative, gave us continuity and collaborated with retailers to serve consumers and communities," he added.

Thinking differently became key in tackling many of the issues that arose during the last 20 or so months, Anderson noted. Some of the issues that are now being addressed include direct and indirect remuneration (DIR) fees for elderly patients and fair reimbursement for pharmacies. “So far in 2021, we have seen over 60 individual improvements in state laws and how pharmacy teams can serve people,” Anderson said.

Anderson discussed several successes as a result of NACDS partnerships with like-minded industry stakeholders. “We already have been met with the success on these issues this year. Just a few examples: NACDS, the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA), and the Washington State Pharmacy Association (WSPA), won a major legal fight in July. The Supreme Court upheld an important Arkansas law last year in a case that NACDS weighed in on when we filed a brief...that has created a ripple effect of new state laws like the Arkansas law that the Supreme Court upheld. These new laws would regulate pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs),” Anderson explained.

The indispensable support of pharmacies during national crises is not a new trend, Anderson noted. “Looking back through the years, we've been through some things together as an industry,” he said. “Responses to other public health issues like HIV, and 2 natural disasters, earthquakes, floods, wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes; serving as part of the solution to opioid abuse; shaping the Affordable Care Act, the government's biggest health care reform in decades; pioneering electronic prescribing; engaging on game-changing retailer and CPG issues like mobile and digital - and that's just to name a few,” he said.

Anderson also mentioned the numerous external dynamics and factors that influence the work of pharmacists, such as the economy, politics, and social change. “The economic turmoil of 2008, international and domestic terrorism, contentious presidential and congressional elections that have flipped control of the government, and back again and back again and back again,” he said. “Times described as upheaval, unpredictable, volatile, angry, and chaotic...still, these most recent years have really ramped up the volatility, speed, and scope of change.”

In the face of a crisis as unpredictable as the COVID-19 pandemic, the enhanced role of the pharmacist continues to gain momentum, Anderson explained, noting President Biden’s recent announcement of his plan to offer Americans COVID-19 vaccine booster shots, potentially starting in September. “We said that when the need for additional shots was upon us, pharmacies would be the ones that are still here at the ready. And true to form, here we are,” Anderson said. “It is critical that NACDS brings together the front-line experience of pharmacies, so we can speak clearly to the government about what is needed.”

Lindholz spoke about the achievements and strides pharmacies have made across the country throughout the pandemic and during vaccine and technology rollouts. Lindholz’s discussion centered on the importance of collaboration in leading the successes of pharmacies and communities.

Pharmacies have been underpaid, under-recognized, and under-reimbursed for many of the services offered prior to and during the pandemic, Lindholz asserted. Pharmacies have been established as the face of health care and COVID-19 vaccination; and they have introduced self-care, prevention, and well-being as integral parts of medicine during non-crisis times.

“These are complex issues, yet one common factor is that a personal and local approach to connecting with patients is absolutely the key," Lindholz said. "We have seen studies that have shown us what pharmacies in the neighborhood can do to help increase vaccination rates, enhance medication adherence, boost the management of chronic disease, and more. We need to turn these studies into new standards for how we approach health and wellness,” she explained.

COVID-19 shined a light on the valuable care provided by retail pharmacies, Lindholz added. Retailers have been meeting customers where they are on their health care journey, providing COVID-19 vaccinations, and addressing vaccine hesitancy. Pharmacists have established themselves as trusted health care professionals at the front doors of health care, according to Lindholz.

The connections between retailers, suppliers, and health care providers are vital during crises to bolster economic and health care progress, Lindholz explained. “I mentioned that NACDS is simultaneously focused on bringing together chains and suppliers, while also fighting for public policy. Pro-patient, pro-pharmacy policy based on everything that we've talked about here - it's possible that bringing together chains and suppliers, and advocating for sound policies are more aligned than ever before,” she said.

Economist Zandi provided the wide lens on the legislation trends that would boost job growth and competition, noting that policies related to infrastructure, immigration reform, and those supporting low-middle class income families, such as childcare, would improve the economy and in turn bolster pharmacies and manufacturers.

In looking at economic projections and the business model for health care and beyond, Zandi pointed to shifting employment rates. While there is a sense of optimism that unemployment and the real estate market will return to their pre-pandemic levels, the economy is also facing significant changes, including the retirement of baby boomers and therefore shifts in the job market. Zandi additionally touched on the current inflation spike, which is showing an increase in demand and surge in prices; however, supply is on a downturn, which can negatively influence hospitality and retail industries, he said. On the other hand, the inflation spike is temporary and Zandi reported that there have also been recent improvements in productivity and growth.

2020 and the national pandemic response have posed yet another challenge to pharmacy retailers, but NACDS leadership is confident that COVID-19 has been a launchpad for the industry and a testament to what pharmacies can achieve. “What we have achieved is an inspiration, not a destination," Anderson said. "And NACDS is committed to nothing short of a complete rethinking, again, of how we fight for this industry and for the consumers that you serve,” he concluded.

Reference

  1. Anderson SC, Lindholz C, Zandi M. Business Program I. Presented at: National Association of Chain Drug Stores Total Store Expo 2021; August 23-25, 2021; online. Accessed August 23, 2021.