NCPA: Independents are down, but don't count them out

November 6, 2006

Squeezed by low and slow reimbursement from Medicare Part D, independent pharmacists have certainly taken their lumps this past year. But they still managed to eke out some victories, according to leaders of the National Community Pharmacists Association, which held its annual meeting in Las Vegas last month.

For one thing, by partnering with chains in the Coalition on Community Pharmacy Action, NCPA has managed to keep the military's TRICARE program from going to mandatory mail order. This means the nine million patients in this program can continue to go to their local pharmacies for their prescriptions.

Even on the Medicare Part D front, while NCPA considers it to be "a bad law" and opposed the legislation, the association has made "the best of a bad situation" by doing several things, Bruce Roberts, executive VP of NCPA, told the audience. Working with MemberHealth, NCPA has developed a national prescription drug plan (PDP) called Community Care Rx (CCRx). Even though it's not a household name compared with other PDPs, such as Humana, CCRx has become the fourth largest plan in the country. This PDP offers patients face-to-face interaction with pharmacists, instead of call centers. "Because of our success, many plans now realize they're better off with pharmacy as a partner, than as an adversary," Roberts claimed.

Speaking of e-prescribing, Roberts noted that since SureScripts was formed in 2001, it has grown to cover more than 30,000 pharmacies. But independents are still slow about getting their pharmacies set up for e-prescribing. Some 83% of independents are not connected to SureScripts yet, while more than 90% of the nation's chains are hooked up. He urged members to get connected promptly for greater efficiency and safety.

NCPA is offering its members a new weekly e-newsletter featuring health information that stores could send to patients under their own brand name. This free service is made possible through a new partnership between NCPA and Revolution Health. Revolution Health is setting up a consumer-friendly portal, as of Jan. 1, designed to help people take care of their own health.

On the Medicaid front, Roberts said the coalition has hired a research firm to conduct a survey on the cost of dispensing. The coalition hopes the results, which should be available by the end of the year, will be used by states to set an adequate dispensing fee for pharmacies. Roberts exhorted members to fill out the survey.

Part D has placed a severe hardship on independents, acknowledged NCPA president James Rankin, "but we will confound the opposition." Roberts revealed that NCPA has added eight government affairs staffers to increase the association's presence on Capitol Hill. Community pharmacy is far from vanishing, Rankin asserted. In fact, it is attracting a "renaissance of interest" among students. This past year, "NCPA student chapters grew to 70 and NCPA student members increased by more than 10%," Rankin disclosed. He vowed independents would meet their challenges and prevail.